Moratorium on building service stations to be proposed tonight in Harford County

Bills aim to prevent further MTBE problems

August 03, 2004|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

Two bills proposing a six-month moratorium on the construction of service stations in Harford County will be introduced at tonight's meeting of the County Council.

The bills are in response to suspicions that an Exxon station in the Upper Crossroads section of the county is responsible for contaminating well water at 127 homes near the intersection of Routes 152 and 165 with methyl tertiary butyl ether, a noxious gasoline additive commonly called MTBE.

"Our bill is broader," Councilman Robert G. Cassilly said, comparing the proposal he will put forward with the support of Councilwoman Cecelia M. Stepp and a bill to be presented by Councilwoman Veronica L. Chenowith.

"We are looking at the broader issue of protecting the Harford County water supply from MTBE or whatever the next chemical spill might be," Cassilly said.

Chenowith, who represents Fallston, said her bill was drafted first and that she began working on it early last month.

Chenowith said she is hopeful that the introduction of two bills will not hinder getting legislation passed.

"This is not a political issue," he said. "This is very important. We need to work together to solve an issue that affects the health, welfare and protection of all citizens in the county."

The council will hold public hearings on the two bills Sept. 7.

The bills will be introduced at the first session of the council since County Executive James M. Harkins said last month that the checks and balances to protect well water at Upper Crossroads did not work.

Chenowith said her bill would stop the permit process and construction of service stations until legislation could be drafted that would give the county's Department of Planning and Zoning authority to more severely restrict stations to prevent gasoline leaks.

Cassilly said Harford has lagged behind other counties and Baltimore in protecting its water supply.

In addition to a construction moratorium, his bill would protect ground water and streams such as Winters Run, which supplies water to Bel Air residents.

"Our water resources are very vulnerable," he said.

He said the backup plan is to draw water from the Susquehanna River. "That's not only expensive, but it's the drainage or the runoff of water from factories, cities and farms from Pennsylvania to New York. That is not a very desirable source of drinking water."

Both bills would allow the council to shorten or extend the moratorium. Both are emergency bills, meaning they would become effective immediately rather than after the usual 60 days.

MTBE is added to gasoline to make it burn more cleanly. Its health effects in drinking water are uncertain. County health officials have said that the levels of MTBE found in wells in the Upper Crossroads area are probably not high enough to do any harm.

Maryland Department of the Environment officials have said for weeks that they think the Exxon station is a source, if not the main source, of the MTBE leak.

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