Otter Creek builder failed to tell Aberdeen mission

March 31, 1995|By Bruce Reid | Bruce Reid,Sun Staff Writer

A Harford County developer said yesterday that he did not provide written notice to buyers at Otter Creek Landing that they were purchasing houses near Aberdeen Proving Ground's Edgewood area, a chemical weapons research and former manufacturing center for the Army.

The notice was required as a condition of approving the 234-house development, according to Harford officials. Most of the 40 or so houses built there are occupied.

The developer, Bob Ward, signed a memorandum of understanding about the disclosure with the county on Nov. 30, 1993. Jefferson L. Blomquist, deputy county attorney, said the agreement requires Mr. Ward to disclose Otter Creek Landing's proximity to the proving ground's Edgewood area as well as a brief history of chemical weapons testing at the base.

"For some reason, it didn't get in there," Mr. Ward said.

Residents along Willoughby Beach Road in Edgewood, including those living at Otter Creek Landing, became alarmed this week after learning of the Army's plans to remove an unknown number of buried chemical shells from a former testing area known as the Nike site, as close as 1,500 feet from hundreds of houses and three public schools.

Mr. Blomquist said he and officials from the county health department who negotiated the disclosure language with Mr. Ward are planning an investigation.

Mr. Ward said he was willing to provide the disclosure concerning the Army's work at the Edgewood area, but that he thought the statement was recommended, not required. He also said he included a general statement in sales contracts about the possibility of hazardous substances in and around houses, which is standard in such documents. "I'm sure I will be using more specific language" in future, he said.

A more specific disclosure about the Nike site will be required of developers of the 144-home Broadneck Landing. It is closer to the site where the Army tested chemical weapons for at least 30 years before placing Nike nuclear missiles there.

Several Otter Creek Landing residents say they fear they will have trouble selling their homes. Like other residents living near the Nike site, they also fear accidents during Army removal of buried shells believed to contain mustard agent and phosgene. Both are lethal chemicals.

The cleanup is to begin in about a year. Army officials said this week they are confident they can remove the buried munitions safely, but residents have many questions.

"There is no peace of mind now," said Bernice Prestianni, who bought her four-bedroom house in Otter Creek Landing in January 1994 for $155,000. Ms. Prestianni and several neighbors said they would not have bought their homes had they known of the proving ground's extensive work with chemical weapons.

"This was supposed to be our dream home," said Helen Burdess, who signed a contract to buy a house in Otter Creek Landing for $147,000.

The county has required similar disclosure around landfills. "They are all negotiated. No [developer] has voluntarily said they were going to do it," said Mr. Blomquist.

There is no penalty for not including the disclosure statements in contracts to date, Mr. Blomquist said. "If we know that they are not including the disclosure statements, we won't issue any more building permits" until the developer complies, he said.

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