Source of gas may be stumps Developer discloses organic material was beneath subdivisions

October 11, 1998|By Jamal E. Watson | Jamal E. Watson,SUN STAFF

Confirming for the first time a possible source of the methane gas that has kept four families out of their homes in Elkridge, the developer said materials such as tree stumps had been buried at the site years before.

John Liparini, president of the Brantley Group, said that most of the decomposing organic material was eliminated two years ago from the Calvert Ridge subdivision before houses were built. But he said that workers stopped digging at 14 feet and more might be buried.

Liparini's disclosure comes five weeks after potentially explosive levels of methane in basements forced out three families in Calvert Ridge indefinitely, and briefly forced a fourth family out of its home in a neighboring subdivision, Marshalee Woods.

His statement unsettled residents who have been awaiting answers.

"There's no question that we feel we've been misled," said Eric Muller, spokesman for the Calvert Ridge homeowners. "We haven't heard any of this. We are concerned."

Until now, neither Liparini nor Ryan Homes, which built the $250,000-to-$300,000 houses, had publicly acknowledged suspicions that there were decomposing materials buried that could generate the dangerous levels of methane.

Liparini didn't say why he hadn't disclosed the apparent dumping at the site sooner. When he made the statement, he was responding to The Sun about what he and Ryan Homes knew about the land's history.

"When we purchased the land, we hired an engineering firm to interview the family to learn about the history of the land," Liparini said in an interview last week. "They told us that there was some asphalt, stumps and branches, some concrete and a few tires in the ground."

The materials had been thrown into an old, 20-foot-deep sand and gravel quarry that once operated on the site. After deciding to dig 14 feet to refill the quarry to ensure that the land could support houses, workers discovered the buried materials, Liparini said.

"We dug about 75 percent of the site," he said. "We didn't touch the other 25 percent."

The existence of the quarry was acknowledged by county officials soon after the methane problem surfaced Sept. 2. Some longtime residents also said at the time there had been items such as tree stumps dumped on the property. This possibility was underscored last week when county officials revealed that Ryan Homes told them that ground tests since the evacuations show evidence of organic material.

But Ryan Homes hasn't disclosed results of the tests, which XTC company spokesman says are not finished. And the company will not comment on Liparini's disclosure, although the developer said information his firm collected was shared with Ryan Homes.

Ryan Homes and the developer have said that the problem can be dealt with by sealing sump pump holes in basements through which methane seeped, and by installing ventilation systems and gas detectors. But those steps satisfied only the Marshalee Woods family, which quickly moved back into its home after the methane level dropped.

The three evacuated Calvert Ridge families haven't returned, saying they want to know the test results first. In the meantime, they are not inviting fire officials to conduct methane tests, contending those are irrelevant until the source is officially determined.

"This isn't just about methane gas," said Bill Bambarger, 34, one of the evacuated residents. He, his wife, their three children, dog and cat have been living in an Ellicott City apartment.

"Methane is just the symptom of a larger problem. The real problem is that Ryan Homes did not disclose to us that our home was built on a landfill," he said.

County officials say they believe Ryan Homes and Liparini followed procedures governing developments. "From what we know in the situation, everything was done correctly," said David M. Hammerman, director of the Howard County Department of Inspections, Licenses and Permits.

Hammerman said that every developer and builder must develop a site plan and submit it to the county before approval. But he said that it would be impossible to have inspectors on site providing stringent evaluations of every action that the developer takes. He said it is the developer's responsibility to remove any buried debris, but the developer is not required to report the findings to the county unless the materials found are known to be hazardous.

He said he did not know until told by a reporter Friday about the stumps disclosed by Liparini. But he said there is no county requirement that a builder disclose such information. "If this was the case, it would be a wonderful world," Hammerman said.

Pub Date: 10/11/98

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