Two Hampstead-area residents questioned town officials yesterday about drawing drinking water from two wells that have been closed because of industrial contamination at a nearby Black & Decker plant.
Mary Davidson and Tim Hurley, neighbors who own homes north of town, attended a Town Council meeting to ask officials to take a closer look at water contamination along the outskirts of town, much of it near wells that feed the town's public water supply.
"I just would like to know how informed you are when you're making public decisions," Davidson said.
Town officials say they believe the risk of contamination is low and that problems would be detected in monitoring wells. The wells in question are at the southern end of town, across Route 30 from Black & Decker Corp.
Town leaders are anxious to regain lost water sources -- or find new ones -- for the growing population and planned business and industrial park.
At the request of town officials, water-quality specialists from the state Department of the Environment are testing a well near Black & Decker, a department spokeswoman said.
The council was also debating the fate of wells on the other side of town involving H. M. Mall Associates, a development company that is part of The Cordish Co. The Cordish Co. had promised to provide the town a site north of the company's new shopping center for a water tower to serve the north end of town.
In exchange, the town would extend public water service to the shopping center, where a Wal-Mart and Burger King are scheduled to open in the summer.
Councilman Wayne Thomas has opposed the deal because the town would be providing water without annexing the shopping center.
Months before test results confirmed his suspicions, Thomas had raised questions about the quality of two wells that Cordish had offered the town.
The original agreement had called for Cordish to give the town two wells that the shopping center had been using, and connect them to the municipal water supply. The company also agreed to build a pump house for the two wells.
But test results last week showed the wells were poor producers at a combined capacity of 70 gallons per hour, and contained high concentrations of iron, requiring more complex treatment than other town water, Town Manager Ken Decker said.
Those factors, combined with the site's proximity to contamination by dry cleaning solvents, have convinced town officials that they would rather have cash to find other wells.
A new agreement, approved by the council last night, calls for Cordish to pay the town $140,000 to find other wells and build a pump house. The two wells on site would not be connected to Hampstead's water supply, and they would not be used by the shopping center, which will get town water.
Davidson said she was glad to see that the town will not be using the wells near the contamination at the shopping center, but still was concerned about the center's use of town water.
She said she wanted to attend last night's meeting to warn officials to be more concerned about water, especially because of their recently announced plans to use wells near Black & Decker.
Her neighbor, Hurley, attended the meeting concerned that the town would drill new wells at the shopping center. But town officials said they will not and will look elsewhere for water.
After the meeting, Hurley said he was satisfied with that assurance, but Davidson was not.
"I still want to look at the [environment department] files because I don't believe what I'm hearing," Davidson said.
A Black & Decker spokeswoman said the company is opposed to the town pumping from those wells again, because it could cause the contamination to move away from the plant.
Black & Decker is trying to clean up the site by causing the contaminated water to flow from all sides toward the plant, so that it can then be collected and the contaminants removed. The cleaned water is being discharged into a stream.
Town manager Decker said Hampstead has enough water capacity at the moment. But the town lost the good wells to the Black & Decker contamination, and has not been compensated.
At the time the wells were ordered off line by the state, Hampstead residents and businesses used about 350,000 gallons of water a day.
The water comes from 14 wells, each producing from 25 to 100 gallons per minute.