Harford approves gas station moratorium

MTBE contamination spurs emergency measure

September 08, 2004|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

The Harford County Council voted unanimously last night to approve emergency legislation that would impose a six-month moratorium on the construction of new gasoline stations.

The vote came after several amendments were added to Councilwoman Veronica L. Chenowith's bill. Her measure was designed to give the county time to consider any changes in regulations or zoning that might prevent a repeat of a gasoline additive leak that has contaminated wells at 169 homes in the Upper Crossroads area with a potentially cancer-causing chemical.

In a compromise move, the council altered her bill to match similar legislation proposed by fellow members Robert G. Cassilly and Cecelia M. Stepp.

An Exxon station at Routes 152 and 165 is the primary suspect as the source of the methyl tertiary butyl ether - MTBE, as it is commonly called - that leaked into wells in the Upper Crossroads area.

Roman Ratych, vice president of the Greater Fallston Association, said he would "strongly support any bill that would protect the drinking water in Harford County."

Others, including Del. Joanne S. Parrott, a Harford Republican, said the county needs to be more selective in where it allows the construction of service stations. She does not want them located close to communities that draw drinking water from private wells.

Parrott said the county should also give consideration to controlling the size of any new station, including a limit on the number of pumps.

More than 100 people crowded into the council chamber, but the turnout was smaller than predicted.

Residents of Upper Crossroads first learned of the MTBE contamination of their wells in June. Since then, MTBE has been found at the Fallston Presbyterian Church and preschool, on Route 152, about five miles from the Upper Crossroads site.

Two weeks ago, state officials identified the underground fuel tanks at a 7-Eleven convenience store in Aberdeen as the potential source of an MTBE leak into the town's public water system.

Chenowith said the new legislation would not impose a moratorium on the building of stations in the county's three municipalities - Bel Air, Aberdeen and Havre de Grace.

As an emergency bill, the moratorium becomes effective immediately after being signed by County Executive James M. Harkins, rather than after the usual 60-day waiting period.

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