Salty days near an end at Monkton restaurant

County Council likely to OK land purchase to replace fouled well

July 06, 1999|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

Chef Jim Schumann has the same problem with every recipe -- a pinch too much salt in his water.

Schumman, executive chef at Manor Tavern in Monkton, cooks with bottled water at the 450-seat restaurant because salt from a Baltimore County highway shop seeped into the restaurant's well and polluted its water 10 years ago.

For Schumann, that has meant a career of hoisting 37-pound jugs over his stove every time he pours water into his pasta pots, dumps it into his vegetable steamers or fills the caldrons he uses to make 10 to 15 gallons of soup each day.

"You need water to cook almost everything," said Schumann, 35. "Plain and simple, it's a pain in the neck."

The county has been paying $20,000 a year to have a Culligan Bottled Water truck deliver 700 gallons a week from the Culligan plant in Elkridge to the tavern.

County officials say they have finally found a neighbor willing to sell land for a replacement well and hope to connect the restaurant to one of two new county-drilled wells in the next few months.

The County Council is expected to approve a contract to purchase the 1.4-acre well sites tonight.

County officials say the $160,000 project will end a problem that began in 1988, when one of the restaurant's residential neighbors discovered that chloride -- a key ingredient in highway salt -- had seeped into the ground water from a pile of salt stored outdoors at a nearby county highway maintenance shop.

The water is not toxic, county officials say.

"It just tastes salty," said Kevin Koepenick, a geohydrologist for the Baltimore County Department of Environment and Resource Management.

County officials removed the salt pile when they discovered the problem. They shut down the highway shop about five years ago, and, like most jurisdictions, the county has built sheds to store highway salt and prevent future problems.

The county also replaced the wells that had served two homes north of the salt pile. The wells had been contaminated by the chloride, which, unlike the sodium in highway salt, is not absorbed when it seeps into soils.

A decade of bottled water

The restaurant on Old York Road has been using bottled water ever since.

Mark Greene, who has owned the restaurant for 10 years, keeps the clear plastic jugs of fresh water at a waitress station between the kitchen and the dining room.

Water is served to some tables on request and to those in a more formal dining room routinely. Bartenders pour water from pitchers, and members of the kitchen staff drink from large thermos jugs in the kitchen.

Greene uses his well's salty water only to wash dishes and to flush toilets in the restaurant, which features a stone fireplace, an outdoor patio and portraits of horses on its walls.

But even that has meant problems, he said. The salty water has corroded the restaurant's pipes, which means frequently replacing faucets and other fixtures.

Greene is reluctant to criticize the county, saying he and his lawyers are negotiating with the county over whether he will release the county from liability for damage caused by the water problems. He said his only frustration is the time it has taken the county to replace his well.

"They've been good to deal with, but from my view, I feel like they've been dragging their feet," he said.

$75,000 for 1.4 acres

Koepenick said the new well is possible only because the county has been able to negotiate the $75,000 purchase of the 1.4-acre tract of vacant farmland from a neighbor far enough from the restaurant to assure a well with good-quality water.

Ralph Rigger, a retired teacher who lives near the restaurant, said many homeowners might have been reluctant to sell land for a county well because they feel they might need the water themselves.

"People figure there's a finite amount of water under the ground, and I guess they figure they don't want to give away something they may need someday," Rigger said.

Koepenick said the neighbors who noticed a salty taste in 1988 complained to county officials.

"I turned on the spigot, and this bubbly water started coming out," said Walter Rasmussen of White Hall, a former Monkton resident who discovered the salt in his water and that of the home next door, owned by his mother-in-law.

No major inconvenience

Rasmussen, who retired from the county's Bureau of Land Acquisition in 1988, said the contamination was not a major inconvenience. He said he and his mother-in-law drank bottled water for about a year while the county found a site for another well.

"I'm just amazed that after all this time the Manor Tavern is still on bottled water," Rasmussen said.

After replacing the residential wells in 1989, the county discovered that Manor Tavern's well was contaminated. The county has been negotiating with neighbors for a well site ever since, Koepenick said.

Koepenick said the two wells to be drilled on the vacant farmland at Manor Road and Old York Road will ensure an adequate water supply for the restaurant -- which requires up to 7,500 gallons of water a day. Enough will be left over for up to 10 additional homes should any neighbors develop salt problems, he said.

Koepenick said 16 monitoring wells tested periodically since the problem was discovered have turned up low levels of chloride in the water, not enough to require new wells.

No more development

There are no plans to allow increased development in the area once the wells are completed, Koepenick said.

Rigger said he and other neighbors are more concerned that the new wells might lead to increased development than they are about water quality.

"I would not want a public water system up here," Rigger said. "We're dead set against that."

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