Harford executive to sign freeze on new gas stations

Ban would exist until county enacts safety plan

September 09, 2004|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

Harford County Executive James M. Harkins said yesterday that he would sign emergency legislation that puts a moratorium on the construction of gasoline stations until restrictions are put into place to protect the county's water supply from the kind of chemical spill that has contaminated the wells of 169 homes in the Upper Crossroads area.

"He has not yet received the bill from the County Council," said Merrie Street, a spokeswoman for Harkins. "But he will absolutely sign it, sooner rather than later."

Harkins has 21 days to sign the bill approved by a unanimous council vote Tuesday night.

The new legislation halts the construction of stations for six months, or until the administration can submit a comprehensive water resource protection plan. "If we don't have a plan in six months, we can extend the moratorium," said Councilman Robert G. Cassilly, one of the authors of the legislation.

The bill that passed was a compromise between two similar pieces of legislation: one proposed by Councilwoman Veronica L. Chenowith and one offered by Cassilly and Councilwoman Cecelia M. Stepp.

"We are happy with the legislation," said Roman Ratych, vice president of the Greater Fallston Association, which is representing residents in Upper Crossroads who have traces of methyl tertiary butyl ether, or MTBE, in their well water.

Ratych said the council's action doesn't correct the MTBE contamination, "but it could help prevent similar MTBE spills in the future."

"It provides a rest period. It gives the county government time to reassess its zoning requirements or make other changes so that something like this does not hurt the county in the future," he said.

Cassilly agreed. "This does not take the MTBE out of the water," he said, "but we are pointed in the right direction. We are in a bad situation, and it could get worse. We are not dumb as rocks. We knew we had to do something to prevent this from happening again."

Maryland Department of the Environment officials say that an Exxon station at the intersection of Routes 152 and 165 is at least partially responsible for the MTBE leak.

County officials were not certain how many projects would be affected by the moratorium.

Ed Ellis, president of Ocean Petroleum LLC, disclosed at the Tuesday hearing that he has plans for a new station at Routes 152 and 7 near Joppa. He said he would continue with the design work in the hope that the moratorium is lifted by the time he is ready to start construction.

Ellis said he has heard rumors that two or three other stations are being planned for the county.

Ratych said the Greater Fallston Association has scheduled a countywide MTBE public meeting for 9 a.m. Sept. 18 at Fallston High School's auditorium.

He said the governor, Maryland's U.S. senators, the county executive and other elected officials, along with representatives of MDE and the Harford County Health Department, have been invited to attend. He said he did not know whether they plan to attend.

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