Propane near the schoolyard Howard County: Moving gas tanks near school may meet zoning requirement, but concerns are valid.

June 09, 1998

A LAWYER who represents a company that wants to move its propane distribution center to a site 1,600 feet from the new Triadelphia Ridge Elementary School insists there is no danger.

"Propane is entirely safe," attorney Thomas Meachum says. That's obviously an exaggeration.

There have been more than enough propane accidents to raise concern, Mr. Meachum's assurances notwithstanding.

In June 1992, for example, about 50 Elkridge residents were forced to evacuate their homes after a leak was discovered in a propane gas line to a building on Furnace Road. In July 1994, a propane truck crashed in White Plains, N.Y., igniting fireballs that burned nine houses and injured 24 people. In May 1996, six Ellicott City children were burned when propane fumes were ignited by heat inside their apartment building's furnace room. In July 1996, a propane explosion in Mexico City killed six people. A propane explosion last year in Kokomo, Ind., injured several people and led to the evacuation of 100 families.

That litany of incidents is ammunition for those who don't think Amerigas Inc. should move from U.S. 40 and Centennial Lane to a 2.4-acre tract on Triadelphia Road between Ten Oaks Road and U.S. 32. The Howard County Planning Board turned down the request of Triangle Howard Corp., the petitioner for Amerigas, by a 2-1 vote May 20. The county Board of Zoning Appeals will make the final decision June 16.

Amerigas Inc. says it has never had a problem in 40 years at its current location. The Board of Appeals should consider the company's safety record. The board may decide that two nearby gas stations pose just as much danger to the new school.

Howard County law allows industrial activities such as propane storage in a B2 business zone under certain guidelines. If Amerigas meets all the requirements, no legal reason may exist to deny its petition. But it would ease a lot of minds if the company didn't relocate to a site so near a school.

Pub date: 6/09/98

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