Group eyes waste dump for driving range site Capped toxic area is near Patterson High

October 28, 1997|By Karen Masterson | Karen Masterson,SUN STAFF

A group of East Baltimore investors is trying to buy a toxic waste dump adjacent to Patterson High School and turn it into a driving range for golfers.

The site at Kane and Lombard streets, a few miles from downtown, has a 10-acre protective cap and slurry walls designed to contain contaminants.

Although questions remain as to how contained those hazardous soils are, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency believes a driving range would pose no threat to the site or to would-be golfers.

Richard W. Sandza, publisher of the East Baltimore Guide, said he and other East Baltimore investors would provide at least $100,000 for the project, which would transform the dormant lot into a 40-tee driving range.

They plan to buy 8.4 acres of the site, the entire stretch of which is protected by a cap of clay, impermeable synthetics and topsoil. A giant fenced-in mound -- camouflaged by tall, brown grass -- is a reminder of the 1960s and 1970s when industrial companies legally dumped hazardous waste wherever they could.

The EPA put the site on its Superfund list for emergency cleanup in 1984.

The agency removed 1,163 50-gallon drums of hazardous soil, flammable solids and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Slurry walls were installed to contain contaminated ground water, and a cap was laid to prevent moisture from reaching remaining contaminants. The cleanup cost about $9 million.

The site is usable as long as the environmental remedies remain intact, said William Smith, a spokesman for the EPA office in Philadelphia.

"When I said all I want to do is bounce golf balls off this, [the EPA] thought it was great," Sandza said.

He and his colleagues began drawing a blueprint. The shape of the lot initially encouraged them to point the tees south, Sandza said.

But that would put the Patterson High baseball field in the firing line of golf balls. The cost of nets to protect students, he said, might force them to adjust the driving range so that it points away from the school.

Buying a Superfund site is a long and complicated process because of the regulatory requirements involved in owning and using contaminated land, even for something as environmentally benign as a driving range.

Sandza is in the final stages of obtaining an exemption from liability for the hazardous waste on the property.

But he has to agree to pay for damages to the cap and flood walls, unless he could prove his company -- Double Eagle Enterprises -- was not responsible.

"It's a difficult project because the regulatory stuff on this is a beast," said Sandza, who started negotiating the exemptions with EPA early last year.

Several other larger Superfund sites in Utah, California and Montana are 18-hole golf courses.

"Golf courses are a good, desirable and reasonable use of the land," said Kevin Murray, an attorney who specializes in transforming environmentally impaired lands into commercial use.

Murray said owners have to be careful not to plant things like trees with roots that would penetrate the caps.

The only other Baltimore Superfund site in use is the Kem Metals site, location of a field office of the Maryland Department of the Environment. Maryland has 17 Superfund sites statewide.

Double Eagle will have to work with the companies that dumped the waste, including AT&T , Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. and General Motors. They are monitoring the site and running tests that will determine whether additional removal plans are needed.

Sandza said he knows that if EPA returns to dredge more of the contaminated soil, it would disrupt his business. But he is taking the risk because he believes a driving range so close to downtown would be a booming business.

"This piece of land was left for dead," he said. A driving range "is a terrific way to rejuvenate the ground without affecting the remedy."

Pub Date: 10/28/97

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