Christmas-tree grower spars with county

Man says sewer-line work damaged his property

April 12, 2004|By William Wheeler | William Wheeler,SUN STAFF

A 77-year-old Perry Hall Christmas-tree grower is at loggerheads with Baltimore County, claiming county construction has threatened his livelihood. The county says it's fulfilled its obligations.

Frostee Tree Farms in the 8900 block of Cowenton Ave. is a pleasant landscape, but on the downhill edge of the property stands a patch of waterlogged, dying trees.

George Winter says the dividing line is the underground sewage pipe that Baltimore County installed on his property four years ago.

Winter and his wife, Helen, have been farming Christmas trees for 45 years.

When a Baltimore County official approached them in 2000 and offered to pay $48,000 for an easement to put the pipe on their property, the Winters agreed.

But ever since the work was completed, they say, the soil the county replaced is so impermeable that water dams up and drowns the surrounding trees.

They say more than 300 of their trees are dying.

But Edward C. Adams Jr., director of the Baltimore County Department of Public Works contended that the department has exceeded its commitment to the Winters with the $48,000 paid for clearing trees and for the easement.

In addition, Adams said, the department has offered repeatedly to till and chisel the disputed topsoil, loosening it enough to plant seedlings.

The county says its tests indicate the topsoil is nearly identical to what was removed.

A department letter suggests that the soil is more compacted in the easement than elsewhere because of "the amount of construction equipment run over the easement."

George Winter disagrees.

"You can't even put a shovel in it. It's like cement," he said, pointing to a 40-foot-wide patch devoid of vegetation.

The Winters say the county has been evasive.

"We call them, and we keep getting pushed off from one to the other," George Winter said.

"One man, we just kept asking him about our deal, and he kept saying that he didn't remember the details. We named him `I Don't Remember.' Another guy would come out and not even talk to us. We named him `No Talkie.'"

The Winters say they want more restoration measures to be taken, with an estimated cost of $30,000 to $60,000.

Adams says that he thinks the county has more than met its obligations but that if the Winters have further complaints, they ought "to let the law look at it."

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