U.S. agrees to clean up contaminated depot soil if buildings are removed County must pay to clear warehouses

February 18, 1993|By John Rivera | John Rivera,Staff Writer

The federal government has agreed to remove radioactive soil by June from county-owned property on New Ordnance Road that once was part of an Army depot, provided the county removes several dilapidated buildings first.

County officials said yesterday they might be amenable to removing the nine old warehouses if that will speed cleanup of the property. But if the cost is too high, the deal could be off.

"We're going to go out and look at the buildings and once we determine the cost, we'll get back to the federal government," said Michael Leahy, the county's land-use coordinator. "The issue is one of whether the buildings can be taken down in toto, or whether they have to be disassembled piece-by-piece because of the pollution involved."

Congressman Wayne T. Gilchrest, who met yesterday with officials from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said the Defense Logistics Agency will submit a cleanup plan in about three weeks and will remove the soil from the Glen Burnie site by June. He said he hoped the issue of tearing down the warehouses would not hold up the process.

"We're trying to pursue the fastest possible method to remove the contaminated hot spots," the 1st District Republican said from his office in Washington. "No matter what happens, we don't want to upset the timetable for getting rid of the hot spots."

The 85-acre tract had been the site favored by County Executive Robert R. Neall for a new detention center. Once the cleanup is complete, it may assume that status again, as the fate of the Detention Center expansion remains up in the air.

Formerly part of the Curtis Bay Depot, the property was sold to the county by the federal government in 1981.

Radioactive thorium nitrate that was stored in granular form in the warehouses dissolved and leaked through corroded barrels into the ground, causing the contamination.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission had declared the property free of contamination, after the General Services Administration removed parts of the warehouses that registered radioactivity.

But the ground was never checked because the NRC had not established guidelines for radiation in soil.

The ground contamination was discovered during an NRC survey of the property last May, performed at the insistence of county officials as they deliberated whether the new detention center should be located there.

Two federal agencies, the DLA and the General Services Administration, have been haggling for the past several months over who is responsible for the Ordnance Road cleanup. The GSA operated the depot when the thorium was stored at the Ordnance Road property and the DLA now holds the Nuclear Regulatory Commission license to store nuclear materials at the Curtis Bay Depot.

Officials from DLA decided to coordinate the cleanup and determine later which agency would pick up the tab. "We thought it would be best to proceed and then sort out the issue of responsibility and cost with the GSA later," said Larry Wilson, DLA spokesman.

In a letter to Mr. Gilchrest dated Jan 29, DLA director Vice Admiral Edward M. Straw wrote that the buildings on the property had deteriorated to such a point "that they pose a serious physical safety hazard.

"Since the land and buildings now belong to Anne Arundel County," he wrote, "we will cooperate with them to establish their responsibility and contribution for the cleanup effort."

Council Chairman David G. Boschert said he would be willing to discuss the matter of dismantling the warehouses with the federal agency. But he made it clear the county would go along with the plan grudgingly.

"After all, we're not the ones who were storing the radioactive materials in those buildings," he said.

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