Water service decision delayed

Officials get time to find ways to cut Glenn Heights' costs

October 21, 2007|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun reporter

After a contentious debate, the Harford County Council has opted to delay until Nov. 13 a decision on whether to extend public water service to a Havre de Grace community where some homes' wells are contaminated.

The delay will give officials time to get input from the county Health Department and the city of Aberdeen and search for additional funding to reduce the expense for residents of Glenn Heights, a community of 84 homes about a half-mile from U.S. 40.

Councilwoman Mary Ann Lisanti, whose district includes Glenn Heights, has asked the Health Department for a "thorough assessment of the community's water supply and its impact on health and safety," according to a letter mailed to residents Wednesday.

Dr. Andrew Bernstein, Harford's health officer, said the department has participated in the investigation, sampling and continued testing, since the Maryland Department of the Environment began working in the neighborhood two years ago. MDE tests the wells periodically and has installed filtration systems in nine homes that were found to have elevated levels of trichloroethylene, or TCE, a volatile organic compound. Lower levels of the industrial solvent were detected in about two dozen other wells, officials said.

"In this community, TCE is ubiquitous. You have groundwater contamination with a [potential] carcinogen," Bernstein said. "You want to lessen the risk. Public water will protect the entire community."

Another option is extending water service from Aberdeen. The city is working to extend the water lines to a community not far from Glenn Heights that was annexed recently.

"I think we can offer a better solution than the county's," Mayor S. Fred Simmons said. "I am positive that in the near future we could offer this community city water. It is the humanitarian thing to do."

However, officials said hooking up the residents to county water would happen sooner than extending Aberdeen lines.

The county has $2.2 million in federal and state grants to extend water lines to Glenn Heights. But residents would have to bear a share of the costs and some would have to cap off wells that they say are productive and clean.

MDE investigators have not located the source of the TCE, nor do they know how long it will remain a threat to other wells, since it is moving underground. Although connecting to public water would eliminate the problem, neighbors rejected that option last summer by a 39-38 vote.

"I am not surprised at the split," said Lois Wright, a Titan Terrace resident whose well is contaminated. "It is because of the expenses. This is a highly retired community, and a lot of people just don't have the money."

Many cited the expense, which includes a $3,727 hookup fee that would be levied by the county, and the cost to fill in wells and pay for any additional plumbing work. Residents would be assessed for their share of the county's costs over a 30-year period, an estimated $318 a year.

Al Montgomery, Wright's neighbor, has low levels of TCE in his well but is unwilling to switch to public water unless he is exempt from all costs.

"I want the people who have bad water to get good water," he said. "But I am upset with how the county and MDE have handled this. We should not have to pay a penny. We didn't put this stuff in our wells. There are other ways to fix this so that it does not cost a lot of money."

Lisanti has asked County Executive David R. Craig to waive the hookup fee, but Councilman Richard C. Slutzky - who voted against the delay along with Councilman James V. McMahan - questioned the legality of such a move.

Lisanti also is searching for financial assistance with plumbing costs from the county housing department.

The council could override the residents' vote and force the neighborhood to connect. Some council members expressed concern that the grant was awarded for this fiscal year and stipulates all residents must cap their wells and be on public water within three years of the start of construction.

"If we lose this grant, it would be a real leap of faith to think we could get it back again," Slutzky said.

Ginny Kearney, deputy director of MDE's water management administration, said the agency understands the residents' concerns and would be patient as officials try to find the most equitable solution.

"We all want to see this issue resolved," Kearney said. "Our main focus is fixing this problem. We will wait for a decision."


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