The problem:: Smelly runoff from a nearby gas station floods a Towson home.
The back story:: When it rains in Towson, it floods at Jerry Cornett's house.
Cornett lives on Yakona Road, downhill from Porter's Loch Raven Hess gas station on East Joppa Road. His basement has flooded several times when the pump that catches runoff from the gas station gets overloaded.
Each time, the Hess Corp. paid for the damage to Cornett's house, he said. But about three weeks ago, the company told him that it would not pay for recent flooding, blaming the problem on an inactive sump pump in his neighbor's vacant home.
Cornett said he has run an extension cord from his house to the vacant house to power the sump pump there, but his basement still filled with gasoline-scented water at least four times in two weeks. Cornett's home is connected to the public water system, so he has no problems with drinking water contamination.
Still, he didn't know when he purchased the property about five years ago that there was an existing groundwater contamination issue from a leaking underground storage tank. The problem dates to 1987, said Herb Meade, program administrator for the Maryland Department of the Environment's oil control program.
"Hess has been working on remedial actions ever since," Meade said.
The company installed a groundwater recovery system in 1989 that Meade said lowered levels of contaminants dissolved in the water. About 8 million gallons of water have been pumped and treated by Hess, with 2,800 gallons of gasoline removed, according to Meade. Although the nose can detect the presence of a pollutant, "these levels are very low and we feel do not pose a health concern," Meade said. "The levels are now to the point where they are a nuisance odor, not an environmental or health risk."
The station's pump might need to be maintained or replaced, and Cornett may need a sump pump of his own, Meade said, but groundwater was entering some houses on Yakona Road before the contamination started. Now that most of the contamination has been removed, it's time for Hess to work out a long-term solution for the groundwater, he said.
The owner of the gas station referred calls to Hess. Spokeswoman Lorrie Hecker said Hess officials have been in contact with Cornett and MDE personnel. "Our first priority was looking at the health and safety concerns," she said.
Hess will continue to monitor the situation, but the water meets health standards, and Hecker said it was premature to speculate about compensation for flooding until they understand the cause.
"We want to make sure we are doing our part as a good neighbor," Hecker said.
But Cornett is not convinced that the smell won't make him or his family sick.
"There's no way that odor is OK. Not a chance," he said.
Who can fix this:: To report environmental emergencies, call the Maryland Department of the Environment at 866-633-4686.
- Liz F. Kay
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