Group sues over decision allowing use of creek water

Commission let Aberdeen have emergency access

March 13, 2003|By Lane Harvey Brown | Lane Harvey Brown,SUN STAFF

A Harford County group filed suit in federal court yesterday seeking to strike down the Susquehanna River Basin Commission's decision to allow the city of Aberdeen to draw water from a designated scenic stream during emergencies.

The Deer Creek Watershed Association, made up primarily of property owners whose land is next to the creek, filed its suit in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. The action comes after the city indicated two weeks ago that chemical contamination in several city wells led officials to shut them down late last month, creating an emergency need.

The city, which won a privatization contract several years ago to take over Aberdeen Proving Ground's water system, draws water from the creek to supply the installation. It has sought approval to use water to meet city demands, too, but no decision on that request has been made by the Susquehanna River Basin Commission, a regional water compact.

"The organization supports the historical use of Deer Creek by the Army, but a full assessment needs to be made of the impact" on the creek by city withdrawals, Lee McDaniel, president of the association, said of the lawsuit.

The association hotly contests any withdrawal for the city from the creek, which members maintain is taxed by development pressures and agricultural uses.

James Stuhltrager, a lawyer with the Mid-Atlantic Environmental Law Center in Wilmington, Del., who represents the association, said the commission did not provide notice that it would be considering emergency withdrawals and did not show a historical basis for such a use.

"They violated their own procedures," Stuhltrager said.

"We haven't seen [the suit] yet," said Susan Obleski, spokeswoman for the commission. "We're going to need some time to review it. We do feel we've thoroughly and appropriately coordinated" with Maryland officials in granting the emergency- use provision.

Aberdeen's wells are contaminated with perchlorate, a chemical used in rocket fuel and other incendiary devices.

Though the Army has acknowledged that activities at the proving ground caused the contamination, officials have said no cleanup can take place until the Environmental Protection Agency issues a standard - a decision that likely is years away.

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