Jacksonville turns back school bus depot plan

County scraps project after stiff opposition

December 06, 2006|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,sun reporter

Faced with criticism from Jacksonville residents, Baltimore County officials said yesterday that they are scrapping plans for a school bus depot there.

Officials had agreed to reconsider the project after many residents complained about the proposed location of the bus depot behind the senior center on Paper Mill Road.

Residents had safety concerns about the buses entering and exiting the depot on one of the main commuter routes in the area. And in an area still contending with the effects of a 25,000-gallon fuel spill, residents were also worried about the potential for environmental damage from two aboveground fuel storage tanks planned for the depot.

After community leaders raised the issues, County Executive James T. Smith Jr. asked school officials to re-evaluate whether the bus depot is needed at the site and whether the buses could be accommodated at other locations.

Their review found that a bus depot on Paper Mill Road wouldn't significantly improve transportation of students in the area, said Donald I. Mohler III, a county spokesman.

"All along, the county executive has said unless this would really increase efficiency, the Jacksonville residents have been through a lot and there's no need to put them through more," Mohler said.

The decision not to locate the bus depot in Jacksonville was widely praised yesterday by residents who had written and called Smith and other county and state officials in recent weeks to plead that the project to be scrapped.

"It takes an additional threat to our community off the table," Glen Thomas, president of the Greater Jacksonville Association, said yesterday.

In February, about 25,000 gallons of gasoline was detected seeping from an Exxon service station at Jarrettsville Pike and Paper Mill and Sweet Air roads. More than 120 wells were tested for contamination, and at least six showed significant levels of the gasoline additive MTBE. Water filtration systems were installed at 11 homes, and at least some of an additional 22 homes near the site receive bottled water.

The leak wasn't the first for the community, where all residents and businesses rely on well water. Clean up from another, smaller spill from a gas station that fouled residential wells ended in 1994. Other residential wells in the area were contaminated by the toxic remnants of a long-abandoned Army missile base.

The bus depot was approved by the county council as part of the county budget in May. But many residents - along with County Councilman T. Bryan McIntire - said they didn't realize the project was in the works until this fall.

The county auditor conducted a review of the project's approval at the request of McIntire and concluded that the description of the depot given to council members had been general and vague. As a result, the auditor wrote in his report, little information was provided to alert anyone of the potential hazards.

McIntire, a north county Republican, said yesterday that he credited the project's demise to the persistent residents and "their unfailing opposition."

"They're concerned about their health. They're also concerned about their property values," McIntire said. "Finally, they're concerned about the general appearance of their community."

laura.barnhardt@baltsun.com

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