Residents and politicians who toured the proposed North County jail site Saturday came away with more questions than answers.
Concernsincluded where the facility would be located, the possibility that another prison could be built on the same site and whether chemicals stored at the old Army depot had contaminated the ground.
Some County Council members who went on the tour said they want more time to study the proposal.
Meanwhile, a representative from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Richard L. Bangart, said the agencywill review its records pertaining to chemicals once stored underground near the proposed jail site.
If the records are incomplete or show inconsistencies, Bangart said, the NRC will retest the soil to put all fears to rest. He said the records review would be conducted in the next few weeks.
The tour was set up so state and county officials and representatives of area community associations could see exactly where County Executive Robert R. Neall wants to build an $80 million jail. The 650-bed jail, proposed for eight of 85 acres owned bythe county at the depot off New Ordnance Road, would house inmates awaiting trial or those serving less than 18 months in prison.
The council is scheduled to vote this month on a resolution, requested byNeall, supporting the jail site. Approval is crucial because the council will decide whether to include the jail in its capital budget.
At the state level, a bond is pending which would give Neall $1.25 million to start designing the Glen Burnie jail. Neall wants the county to pay half of the total cost.
Hundreds of North County residents have protested Neall's proposal, saying plans have been in the works for a year, but not made public until recently.
The residents say a jail would lower property values and pose a safety threat. They also fear a jail would strip the county of valuable land that could be sold to more desirable businesses and say it could create an environmental hazard.
"Who is going to clean it up when something goes wrong?" said Louis Kyle, representing the Twin Cove Community Association. "Nothing has been cleaned up from past problems. Why do they want to constantly impact us further?"
The first stop on the tour wasgovernment-owned land on the depot, several hundred yards from the proposed jail site. Concern has been raised about whether buried chemicals have contaminated ground water, making the proposed jail site unsafe.
Government officials told residents and County Council members the area is safe and that nothing is buried underneath. "There is nothing here that will hurt you," said Bill Fritz, the depot manager stationed at Curtis Bay. "What you see is what you have."
Kevin F.Reilly, a Department of Defense logistics organizer, said that several years ago, three drums of dirt with chips of beryllium, a metal, were dug up at the depot by the entrance nearest to New Ordnance Road."What they did was dig a hole and throw the drums over a fence," he said.
He said the metal was part of floor sweepings from a New York construction project. Reilly said the drums were safely dug up and removed, and the area has tested clean ever since.
Several residents questioned officials about four companies, including Coca-Cola, that at one time were interested in the county-owned land. The residents said the companies chose not to come because of fear of chemicals buried at the depot.
"We are talking about a virtual golden piece of property," one resident in the crowd said. "Four companies came in and walked away. There is something wrong."
But Lee S. McCandless,senior consultant for Woodward-Clyde Consultants, an engineering andgeology firm that is working on the current project and had worked with Coca-Cola, said the companies were concerned about a lack of an adequate water supply and costs imposed by the county.
County Council Chairman David G. Boschert, D-Crownsville, said he wants to hear from the NRC before he makes a decision. He said he hopes he can get answers before the council vote, which could come as early as March 16.
After the tour of the government property, the group walked to the proposed site, where they heard from the engineering company that selected the North County site.
The group viewed a design of a prison from Georgia as it might appear on the eight acres in Glen Burnie. Engineers cautioned that this was only preliminary because the actual wetlands have yet to be determined, therefore making a schematic drawing impossible.
But County Councilman Edward Middlebrooks, D-Severn, said the way the prison was drawn left considerable room for either future expansion or another prison on the site. "The community'sconcern is that Baltimore City and its problems will come to Anne Arundel County," he said.
"You know what the argument will be," saidstate Del. Ray Huff, D-Pasadena. "They already got one prison there.What's another one?"