A Bel Air developer and one of his companies have been charged with allowing soil at a development site to foul a stream, marking the second time the state has used sediment pollution law to crack down on alleged violators.
Thomas J. Langford and his company, Phoenix Enterprises, were each charged last month with 18 counts of violating thelaw, following a year-long investigation by the state attorney general's environmental crimes unit.
"In these kinds of cases, you kind of hope people will turn around and do what is expected," Assistant Attorney General Howard P. Nicholson said. "When they don't, you have to go forward with the charges."
State laws prohibit land clearing, soil movement and construction unless the project complies with the soil conservation district standards. These requirements were established to protect environmentally sensitive areas such as wetlands.
Langford and Phoenix Enterprises were charged Sept. 18 with violating sediment pollution laws at the Plumtree Estates development on Plumtree Road, south of Bel Air, during September and October 1990.
Plumtree Estates consists of twosections, a 39-lot home subdivision approved by the county in 1975 and a 32-lot section approved in 1989. The development lies along Barred Owl Branch, a creek that feeds Winters Run, which supplies water for Bel Air-area residents.
The sediment violations resulted from work at the second section of the development, charging documents filed in Harford Circuit Court say.
Langford and Phoenix were each charged with nine counts of unlawfully clearing land and moving soil without the approval of the Harford Soil Conservation District, records say.
The defendants also were each charged with nine counts of unlawfully spilling soil and sediment into Barred Owl Branch and placingsoil where it could be washed into the creek, records say.
"In certain points, (Barred Owl Branch) was choked with sediment," Nicholson said. "The aquatic life in the tributary also was adversely affected."
The county has repaired the sediment erosion problems at the
Plumtree Estates site and revoked the developer's $12,000 security bond, Nicholson said.
The county's work in restoring the site costat least $36,000, said Jefferson Blomquist, deputy county attorney.
If convicted, Langford and Phoenix each face a maximum fine of $495,000. In addition, Langford faces up to 18 years in prison. A trial date has not been set.
Langford could not be reached for comment. One of the biggest developers in Harford during the 1980s, he filed for bankruptcy protection in October 1990.
Sediment pollution is common in Maryland, particularly in fast-growth areas, but criminal investigations of these violations are uncommon, Nicholson said.
The environmental crimes unit, which usually handles hazardous waste violations, began investigating sediment pollution cases in 1989, said Cpl. Stephen T. Moyer, a state police investigator who supervises the unit.
The Plumtree Estates case marks the second time the unit has filed charges against a developer, Moyer said. The unit has several ongoing investigations, including one in Cecil County.
The police unit's first case, in St. Mary's County in 1989, resulted in the convictions of a development company and one of its managers. The company,Interstate General Corp., was ordered to pay $55,000 in fines; the manager was ordered to pay $15,000 in fines and sentenced to one-year on probation.
Nicholson described the damage in the Plumtree Estates case as "comparable" to that seen in the St. Mary's County.
Langford and Phoenix Enterprises obtained the approval of the Harford Soil Conservation District for grading at the Plumtree Estates project,but the work had to be completed within 14 days, court records say.
The developer meanwhile tried to obtain permits for the development to connect into the county's sewage system. When he didn't get the permits, he ceased grading work at the site, Nicholson said.
The state has imposed a moratorium on sewer hook-ups in the southwest areaof Bel Air until a sewage pumping station is expanded. The moratorium has delayed numerous development projects in the area.
The county Department of Public Works repeatedly tried to get the developer tostabilize the idle tract of bare, exposed earth, Nicholson said. When Langford did not comply, the county referred the case to the environmental crimes unit, which initiated an investigation.
Moyer said the four-member unit's investigation involved an on-site inspection, reviews of county documents and test samples of soil and water taken from the development site.
"In this case, problems were there thatweren't being corrected," said Moyer, an Edgewood native. "When sediment pollution gets involved, we get involved."