Testing pledge at Turf Valley

Developer says agreement coming on chemical levels

May 09, 2007|By A Sun reporter

The owner and developer of Turf Valley has pledged to conduct additional tests to determine whether there is any chemical contamination at the luxury resort and planned community in Ellicott City.

The timing of the testing is still unknown, but Louis Mangione, vice president of Mangione Family Enterprises, said that there has never been any doubt that the company would authorize further analysis of what, if any, remnants remain of chemicals used over the years to treat the golf courses at Turf Valley.

"We've always said there will be more testing," Mangione said. "The question is, `How to put people at ease -- the county, citizens and developer?' We're working through it."

The county has proposed a rigid, voluntary testing program at Turf Valley, but Mangione said Monday night that a formal agreement has not been reached.

The county's executive and legislative branches have threatened legislation to require the testing, if an accord is not worked out.

In a related matter, the County Council on Monday approved adding 70 acres in Turf Valley to the Metropolitan District, which would permit the county to charge the developer a fee to help pay for extending public water and sewer services later. The move was regarded as routine because most of the 800-plus-acre development is served by public water and sewer.

But some residents objected to adding the acreage, which automatically threw the issue to the council. The objection was designed in large part as a way of confronting the council with the issue of environmental testing in Turf Valley.

Although the council on Monday said the two issues were unrelated and that there was no legal basis on which to deny adding the property to the Metropolitan District, some members urged more testing at the resort.

"We have received fairly strong advice from the Office of Law that we can't link this with testing," said councilwoman Courtney Watson. "... We're hoping for a voluntary agreement."

Dr. Peter Beilenson, the county's health officer, has proposed a plan designed to put the issue to rest. It includes:

Creating a scaled plan of present or former golf courses that are intended to be developed, and identifying the locations of chemical storage areas, underground tanks and maintenance and fueling areas.

Submitting a map of any areas of "stressed or dead vegetation, visible discoloration of soil and/or standing pools of discolored liquid" and indicate the prior use of those areas.

Conducting water and soil analysis. Although the number of tests is not fixed, the plan says, "you must propose a sufficient number of samples to effectively represent the specific grid pattern." It also demands samples of known "hot spots," such as chemical storage areas, and areas of discoloration and standing pools.

Retaining two laboratories to perform the analyses.

Remediation when necessary of any areas found to be contaminated.

An environmental study commissioned in 2005 by Mangione Family Enterprises concluded that chemicals and pesticides used to maintain the golf courses do not represent a health hazard.

Marc Norman, a Turf Valley resident and an opponent of plans to expand the development, has faulted the environmental study as inadequate because it relied on 13 tests and did not include areas where there could be a higher possibility of contamination.

Turf Valley is a planned community off U.S. 40 at the western edge of Ellicott City. The development consists of two 18-hole golf courses, a hotel and resort center and homes. Commercial, retail and additional housing are planned for the project, which was first approved about 25 years ago.

The project once had three 18-hole golf courses. Part of its expansion would include areas that were routinely treated with chemicals to maintain the courses.

"At the end of the day, all the responsibility falls on us," Mangione said. "We have too much to lose except to do the right thing. ... Everyone is trying to assure people that there is no danger and that all the right things will be done."

In March 2006, the Planning Board approved the developer's fourth comprehensive sketch plan, which, among other things, would expand Turf Valley to about 808 acres by adding 119.7 acres and permitting the construction of an additional 239 housing units, for a total of 1,618.

The board's action was challenged by opponents to the expansion, but the Board of Appeals earlier this year formally rejected that appeal and said Mangione had met all county regulations.

Beilenson, in his plan submitted to Mangione, warns, "Should I determine that this letter of agreement is no longer in the public interest or, if at any time you are unable or unwilling to continue to fulfill its terms, I may seek the introduction of county testing legislation to the extent permitted by state law."

Mangione said that should not be a problem.

"Everything will be done, and no one will be in danger," he said. "We will do everything according to the law."

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