Problems linger in plan to move offices to plant

August 24, 1994|By Donna E. Boller | Donna E. Boller,Sun Staff Writer

Carroll's commissioners are eager to acquire the former Telemecanique plant for school system administrative offices, although the county health department has some lingering environmental concerns about the building.

The 154,000-square-foot manufacturing plant is the best existing building available, said Commissioner Elmer C. Lippy.

"That explains why we're not dismissing it out of hand despite the fact that there may be some environmental problems," he said.

The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) appears ready to issue a permit for cleanup of a well, one of five that served the former manufacturing plant for electronics components on Bethel Road near Reese.

Square D Co., a sister company of Telemecanique, volunteered to treat the well water in 1993 when tests showed that it was contaminated by a solvent. Square D and Telemecanique are owned by Groupe Schneider.

The county health department "would still like to know if there is anything under the floor, any contamination," said Richard Isaac, environmental health director.

The well is inside the building. Square D officials say that levels of contamination dropped from 18 parts per billion to less than 5 parts per billion one month after a treatment system was installed in January and have remained below the safe drinking water level, 5 ppb, ever since. One part per billion is the equivalent of a teaspoon of sugar in 20 million cups of coffee.

Mr. Isaac said the solvent in the indoor well led health officials to ask whether any contaminants might remain beneath the floor.

Square D officials believe they resolved all of MDE's concerns at a meeting last month and are now awaiting a permit, said Gladys M. Thomas, senior corporate environmental specialist for Groupe Schneider.

Mrs. Thomas said the company has spent about $350,000 on studies and treatment to bring the well to drinking water quality.

She said the treated water, unused, goes directly into a septic system on the site that is "dedicated" to the water from that well.

State environmental officials are now reviewing a draft permit for the Telemecanique well treatment, said MDE spokeswoman Sandra Palmer. She said she could not estimate when the draft permit might be scheduled for a public hearing.

She was unable to confirm whether MDE and Square D had resolved points that the state agency listed in a July evaluation of Square D's permit application.

Richard Collins, an MDE waste management administration official who has been involved in the Telemecanique permit application, did not return repeated telephone calls Monday or yesterday.

County government is under pressure to move Board of Education administrative offices out of the Courthouse Annex so that a cramped court system can expand into that space.

The commissioners had planned to move the school administration into portable buildings donated to the county by Martin Marietta Corp.

But it would cost about $40 a square foot to move the portables and install utilities, providing 60,000 square feet of temporary space, Mr. Lippy said. The county can get permanent space in the Telemecanique building at comparable cost, he said.

Mr. Lippy said county government does not yet have a lease-purchase or purchase price on the Telemecanique building from owner Glenn Bair.

He said the commissioners cooled to the idea of a lease after learning from MDE officials that tenant status would not protect the county from potential responsibility if additional environmental problems surface at the site.

Mr. Lippy said he would not support purchase of the site until environmental concerns had been satisfied.

Commissioner Donald I. Dell, who has been enthusiastic about acquiring the Telemecanique property, was unavailable for comment. Commissioner Julia W. Gouge, who has expressed reservations, did not return telephone calls yesterday.

County government has not had the Telemecanique property appraised.

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