Harford County plans to buy 24 undeveloped lots in the Forest Greenssubdivision near Perryman because the land, where methane and lead recently have been detected, was once a county dump site.
JeffersonBlomquist, deputy county attorney, said the former dump was discovered in November 1990 when Mallard Landing Joint Venture, a developer, began preparing ground for home construction.
"The subdivision was approved to actually be built on a landfill,but it wasn't discovered until the contractor installing utilities and roads started digging up trash," said Blomquist. "We told him he couldn't build houses on landfill and ordered the work to be stopped."
He said tests ordered by the county detected the presence of methane gas in some lots and the presence of lead in the soil on some of the 24 lots.
Tests also showed that existing homes along Seagull and Heron roads are not endangered by the methane and lead found at the former county landfill site, Blomquist said.
"There's no imminent health risk to people already living there, and it doesn't pose a risk to the ground water," said Blomquist, adding that the housing development is on the county's public water system anyway.
The countyordered the tests after Mallard Landing Joint Venture reported to Department of Public Works administrators that trash was found buried on the site, Blomquist said. An investigation revealed the site, located between Golf and Seagull roads, used to be a county landfill. The landfill was closed during the early 1970s, he said.
County HealthDepartment files show it was known that part of the site had been a community dump used by area residents to burn trash.
A 1986 letterfrom a county Health Department worker to Ted Collier, one of the developers of the site, recommended the site be tested for methane.
A report to Collier from Baltimore-based Earth Engineering in November 1986 shows no methane and no hazardous materials were found at thattime.
What wasn't known to anyone, said Collier and Blomquist, was that the front part of the site contained household trash dumped there when it was operated as a county landfill.
Collier said a title search showed the county had purchased the property from Forest Greens Inc. When it closed the dump in the 1970s, the county sold the land back to Forest Greens. In December 1985, Collier purchased the land.
"We knew part of the area had been a burning dump 40 or 50 years ago, but we didn't know the county had ever owned it or had used the property for a trash landfill," Collier said.
After the purchase, Collier's company, Church Point Development Co., developed 27 lots on Seagull and Heron roads, located some distance from the old dump site, Collier said.
Collier said Mallard Landing Joint Venture was working under a development agreement with Church Point Development to build the second phase of the project.
Blomquist said the countyhas been negotiating with Jerry and Ted Collier, Church Point Development, and Mallard Landing Joint Venture to resolve the problem.
Blomquist said recent tests show those houses have no methane gas in basements and no trash buried in their lots. Tests also show that the area where material was burned has no sign of methane gas, Blomquist said.
William G. Carroll, director of the county's Department of Planning and Zoning, said that because the lots were subdivided and recorded in the 1930s, neither the first nor second phase of the development went through usual approval channels.
"They were subdivided long before we had Planning and Zoning, so this was not a case where we approved a subdivision on top of a landfill as part of a normal reviewing process," said Carroll. "It certainly was a surprise to me" to learn the landfill existed, he added.
Blomquist declined to say how much the county expects to pay for the land, but said the offer is expected to go before the County Council for approval later this month.
He said the county has reached an agreement in principle to buy back the area of the county landfill and the dump where trash was burned.
But Blomquist said the deal involves more than a simple land transaction.
The developer would be required to provide potential buyers with a disclosure form for sites adjacent to the landfill.
One other housing development in the county, Woodland Run in Abingdon, already issues disclosure forms because of its proximity to the Spencer Sand & Gravel Inc. rubble fill.
And issuance of disclosureforms to potential buyers will be a condition of county approval forthe Hidden Stream subdivision in Abingdon because of its proximity to the Bush Valley Superfund cleanup site and three illegal dumps.
Thomas M. Thomas, the county's health officer, said methane gas occurs naturally as a result of decaying organic material. In large concentrations it is potentially explosive, he said.
Blomquist said the county is studying the site to determine whether methane is present in quantities large enough to warrant a trench system to vent the gas.He said if a trench is needed, it will be built. Then the land will be graded and new vegetation planted.