Corps asked to rethink BGE permit Allowing fly ash as fill for wetlands in Solley is risky, Gilchrest says

March 25, 1998|By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan | Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan,SUN STAFF

U.S. Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest formally asked the Army Corps of Engineers yesterday to re-evaluate the permit it granted Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. to fill in several wetlands in North County's Solley community with fly ash.

Gilchrest sent a four-page letter to the corps outlining his concern that BGE's fly ash disposal site on Solley Road could pose "risks to the environment and public health" by contaminating the water and the air. He said he came to the conclusions after meeting with the corps, residents, their lawyer and experts Friday.

During the meeting, Donald Cohen, a hydrologic expert residents hired to examine the site, said his research shows increased cadmium at water-testing sites on BGE's disposal area since 1981.

An air-quality expert brought in by residents testified that there was air contamination by particles of fly ash small enough to cause respiratory problems.

"The information I got on Friday led me to believe that the corps should pull its permit," Gilchrest said. "The reason I haven't asked them is because I'm not an expert on hydrology or ground water, so I'm going through this process before making a decision."

Corps spokesman Doug Garman said, "We're taking their concerns very seriously. We will work to address these concerns and respond to the congressman's concerns, [and] citizens' concerns, as soon as possible."

Garman said the corps sent a letter to BGE on Monday requesting information on the disposal operation. He said they also toured the fly-ash site yesterday with officials of BGE and the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE).

BGE spokeswoman Darcel Guy said company officials plan to meet with Gilchrest next week to present their side.

"We feel the evidence the community presents is selective science that clearly skews the facts," Guy said. "We're confident that our credible evidence will support that we have an environmentally safe operation."

Gilchrest's letter also said the corps has been slow to respond to residents. "I am also very concerned by the responses, or the lack thereof, of state and federal agencies, including the Corps, to the legitimate concerns which the [residents] and other community representatives have raised," Gilchrest wrote. The corps took more than a year to tell residents that a December 1990 request for a public hearing had been denied.

In a similar letter to the state environmental agency yesterday, Gilchrest criticized MDE for its response to citizens' concerns.

"It should not be incumbent on the citizens of Maryland to prove that violations exist," he wrote. "Rather, it is BGE and MDE who have the duty to show that BGE's activities do not violate the law or adversely impact the environment. At a minimum, MDE should respond in a timely manner in writing to citizens requests and keep them fully informed of the decision making process."

The letters listed 14 questions about air and ground water quality, among other issues.

MDE spokesman Quentin Banks said he could not comment on the letter because department experts had not reviewed it. Garman said the corps would answer questions within a few days.

John B. Britton, the residents' lawyer, said he is glad Gilchrest has taken their argument seriously and is lobbying for a response.

"What hasn't happened in all these years is a point-by-point response by the corps about truly legitimate issues," Britton said.

Pub Date: 3/25/98

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