Hearing soothes concerns on ground-water cleanup

August 05, 1994|By Joe Mathews | Joe Mathews,Sun Staff Writer

With an apparent about-face in community relations, lawyers and consultants for Black and Decker (U.S.) Inc. promised neighbors of its Hampstead facility last night that the company will be more open about its plans to clean up contamination in the ground water there.

Residents who have long been skeptical of the cleanup said that they were satisfied with a detailed explanation offered during a public hearing last night by Thomas Lynch III, a Frederick attorney representing Black and Decker, and Randy McAlister, a private consultant who developed the company's plan.

Mr. McAlister gave data that many residents said they have beenunable to obtain from the company for years -- including how Black and Decker will use high-pressure air to "strip" ground water of the possible carcinogen trichloroethylene and other contaminants.

One by one, residents who came to the hearing at the Hampstead town office rose to express their dismay at the lack of information from the company.

And with nearly every answer, residents sat down satisfied.

"Maybe the problem here has been miscommunication," said resident Dick Scholtes, sitting down after having his question answered to his satisfaction. "If you told us all about this before, maybe this wouldn't have been such a problem."

"Your criticism is particularly well taken," Mr. Lynch said.

With few voices raised in dissent, the hearing appeared to clear the way for Black and Decker to obtain a permit that would allow it to discharge cleaned ground water into nearby Deep Run Creek. State officials at the meeting said the permit could be granted to the Hampstead distribution center this month.

During the hearing, Mr. Lynch said the company would be willing to set up tours for residents, perhaps on Saturdays. And he promised to put various state documents detailing tests of the site, which are now available only through the Department of Environment offices in Dundalk, in the public library.

Dane S. Bauer, a deputy director of the state Water Management Administration who presided over the hearing, also suggested that Black and Decker set up quarterly "good neighbor" meetings to update residents on the cleanup's progress. Mr. Lynch said he would discuss the idea with company officials.

Earlier yesterday, Black and Decker, which had threatened to charge a Sun reporter with trespassing Tuesday, granted the same reporter a tour of the facility.

In a interview before the tour, Black and Decker officials disputed residents' charges that they have attempted to avoid public scrutiny.

They said they believe in keeping neighbors informed, but also want to push for the cleanup to begin quickly because controlling contamination is in the best interests of residents.

"It's a source of frustration to the company that the members of the public who would benefit most from our clean-up are the ones frustrating our efforts," Mr. Lynch said.

Mr. McAlister, a private water consultant, said the system he designed for the company to control the contamination has received state approval and is sound. He also said that system back-ups and extensive monitoring wells are in place so that Black and Decker can make adjustments as water levels rise or fall.

Mr. McAlister and Black and Decker officials also revealed that, in response to rumors of buried waste beneath the plant, the company searched every part of its grounds.

All that was found, Mr. McAlister said, were tools buried on a small part of the property in the 1970s because they were not up to specifications. The tools are not the source of any contamination, officials said.

Mr. Lynch said it was possible that the ground water had been contaminated over the years from dripping and minor spills while trucks were discharging chemicals into underground tanks.

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