Turf Valley issue tabled

Councilman says looming election stifled action

October 08, 2006|By A Sun Reporter

With the general election only a month away, the County Council has chosen to avoid confronting a potentially controversial issue involving the 800-plus-acre luxury resort Turf Valley and, most likely, leave the matter to its successors.

The decision leaves in limbo an otherwise routine measure that would, ultimately, extend public water and sewer to 46 acres of the development.

But, as with many details involving Turf Valley, what was routine became sensitive.

Councilman Charles C. Feaga laid the council's unanimous vote Tuesday to table the measure clearly at the foot of political expediency.

"It was the election," he said. "I think we're bending to blackmail by a handful of environmentalists."

But Marc Norman, a Turf Valley resident and a frequent critic of the planned expansion of the resort and residential community in western Howard County, said the council's decision was prudent.

"Our community appreciates the concern and support of the council to require comprehensive testing for chemical contamination at Turf Valley," he said.

"We hope the developer will reconsider his position and heed the U.S. Public Health Service's advice that more thorough testing be done to assess the public health exposure and risk," Norman said.

An environmental study commissioned last year by the owner and developer of Turf Valley, Mangione Family Enterprises, concluded that chemicals and pesticides used to maintain the golf courses there pose no health hazard.

Additional environmental studies will be performed at sites before construction of homes, offices and retail stores begins, the company and county officials have said.

The council voted to table consideration of the decision by the Department of Public Works to add the 46 acres to the Metropolitan District, an administrative act that would permit the county to begin charging the developer a fee to pay for future public water and sewer service.

Public water and sewerage already serve most of the development.

The hearing by the council was made necessary when Norman formally protested adding the acreage to the Metropolitan District.

He has long demanded extensive environmental testing on sections of the property to determine whether there is contamination from chemicals used to maintain golf courses at the resort.

Norman had said he intended to press the council to demand additional testing of the property.

There are no regulations that allow either the county or the state to require such testing.

The council declined to get drawn into the fight.

"Turf Valley is a large project, and the future of it should be determined by the new County Council," said Council Chairman Christopher J. Merdon. "The new council's going to have to deal with the impact."

Councilman Ken Ulman said after the meeting that he is "concerned about the potential chemical hazards related to the development of land which had been used as a golf course."

Those chemicals, he said, years later "can continue to pose a significant threat to air and soil quality on the site and in surrounding communities."

Ulman said he considered introducing legislation to require soil testing but was advised by the Office of Law that the county does not have the authority to do so.

Ulman and Merdon are candidates for county executive and voted to table the issue. They were joined by Councilmen Calvin Ball, Guy Guzzone and Feaga.

Feaga later was critical of the vote - and of himself. "Turf Valley is 100 percent safe for building," he said. "We should face up to our job and do it. I was disappointed in myself."

He said he will try to resurrect the issue Oct. 30, the current council's last scheduled meeting.

But it seems doubtful the others will want to jump into the fray that close to the Nov. 7 general election and when development is one of the central issues with the public.

Louis Mangione, vice president of Mangione Family Enterprises - owner and developer of Turf Valley - could not be reached for comment. But last month he said: "There are many, many tests that are left to be done at Turf Valley, and they will be done. That's the way the system works. It's the way I've always said it will work."

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