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Depth an issue with depot land

July 07, 1998|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Future developers of land at Letterkenny Army Depot may not own the ground more than a few feet below the surface, but since the underlying problem is contaminated groundwater, they might not mind.

About 1,500 acres of the depot have been declared excess property by the Pentagon and will be transferred to civilian control between now and 2001. Virtually all of the land, however, has groundwater pollution as a result of years of disposing of solvents and other chemicals at the depot.

The Letterkenny Industrial Development Authority has been working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and the Army on possible Limited Depth Transfers.

"We have a groundwater divide on the depot," said John Van Horn, the authority's infrastructure manager. He said Monday that part of the groundwater from the depot ends up in the Potomac River and the rest in the Susquehanna River.

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Finding a remedy for the contamination problem, however, will take longer than the transfer of the land to the authority, Van Horn said. How long the cleanup will take is still in question, he said.

"I don't know if that can even be estimated because they're still in the process of selecting a remedy," he said of the Army, EPA and DEP. Because of the groundwater divide, the depot has two Superfund cleanup sites.

The authority expects the Army to turn over approximately 250 acres to it in the next few months, with deed restrictions preventing the sinking of wells and the depth of excavation.

The authority is considering accepting Limited Depth Transfers while the Army cleans up the groundwater under the depot. Businesses and industries considering locating at the depot would be able to build there, with the restrictions being removed when the environmental hazards are eliminated, according to the authority.

The authority, or other potential landowners, would have clear title to the land once the cleanup is completed, according to an authority news release.

"Although similar concepts are used in the mining industry ... this type of transfer is new to the regulators and unprecedented with regard to military land transfers," according to the release.

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