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What's under the roundhouse? City officials want to know

July 31, 1998

By JULIE E. GREENE

Staff Writer

Finding out what hazardous materials are beneath the Hagerstown roundhouse complex will be elected officials' top demand in any proposal to buy the property from CSX Real Property, officials said Thursday.

Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II said a counteroffer hasn't been prepared, but he plans to have a draft ready for City Council members to consider during Tuesday's work session.

"Our No. 1 priority right now is to find out what contamination is there and if the property can be redeveloped in conjunction with the roundhouse," Bruchey said.

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Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said he isn't optimistic the city will be able to buy the more than 40 acres along South Burhans Boulevard.

"I would very much like to save the roundhouse and purchase the property, but no reasonable human being can enter into the agreement we're being asked to," Metzner said.

The city received a proposed purchase agreement earlier this week that stipulates the buyer cannot excavate the land without permission from the Maryland Department of the Environment and related agencies.

Under the proposal, if the buyer digs up the ground and contaminants are found, the buyer - not CSX - would be liable for any damages or fines and be responsible for cleanup.

If the city buys the property, it will be with an agreement that protects citizens from a costly environmental cleanup, said Councilwoman Susan Saum-Wicklein.

Councilman William M. Breichner said either the city must learn what contaminants are under the ground or get CSX to assume legal responsibility for any that are found.

Councilman J. Wallace McClure said he did not believe CSX officials have been forthright about the property. CSX has been trying to sell the property for 10 years and should have updated its environmental study by now, he said.

CSX plans to update the environmental study because the last one is too old for the state environmental department to accept, a CSX official has said. The study could take up to three months.

If CSX can't provide that information to the city and razes the property, it should leave the roundhouse standing for the museum, McClure said.

Bruchey said the $500,000 reimbursement CSX officials want toward cleanup costs is "too much money if the contaminants in the ground is to the extent we think it is."

Councilman Alfred W. Boyer said if the land is contaminated, there's no way the city can assume that liability because it would cost too much to clean up.

Boyer said he wants CSX to help save the roundhouse, which is a piece of its heritage as well as the community's.

If the city buys the land, McClure said the roundhouse should be saved for the museum, but most of the other buildings are in bad shape and should be demolished.

Breichner and Boyer said it would be necessary to turn the property into a business park or other development so it could pay for itself.

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