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Owners file suit over groundwater, hope to halt sudivision

March 14, 2002|BY DAVE McMILLION

Relying on a report that says well water in Jefferson County is "significantly contaminated" with dangerous chemicals and biological elements, a suit has been filed seeking to stop county planners from giving approvals for a proposed 100-home subdivision near Charles Town.

The 100 homes in the Spruce Hill subdivision, which would be along Huyett Road south of Charles Town, would use individual wells and septic systems, the suit said.

Adjacent property owners Richard Burns, John P. Burns Jr. and Catherine Burns refer in their suit to a report by Tustian and Associates that says the "most important problem facing the county is the fractured limestone topography."

The report, developed for the Jefferson County Planning Commission, said the fractured rock is susceptible to allowing liquids on top of the ground to reach groundwater, the suit said.

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The most common contaminants in the well water are fecal bacteria and nitrates, which can cause death in infants depending on its level, the suit said.

To minimize further contamination of well water supplies, the report by Tustian and Associates recommends that houses be built on a minimum lot size of at least 10 acres if they are using well and septic tanks, the suit said.

Spruce Hill homes would be on lots of about 1 acre.

"Irreparable harm will occur to the public health, safety and general welfare of the present and future citizens of this county if the subdivision, as proposed, is approved," the property owners allege in their suit.

The suit, filed in Jefferson County Circuit Court, asks the court to stop the Jefferson County Planning Commission from giving approvals for the development. The suit also wants the Jefferson County Board of Health and the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Recourses to be prohibited from issuing any permits for wells and septic systems for Spruce Hill unless a detailed groundwater study is completed to determine the quality of well water in the area, the suit said.

Named as defendants in the suit are Louis B. Athey, the developer of Spruce Hill; Ann Moore Cross, owner of the property; members of the Jefferson County Board of Health; West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources and the planning commission.

Athey and Cross claim the Burnses tried to buy the land, and when they learned of Athey's agreement to purchase it, they tried to "frustrate" the deal by harassing one of the property owners, according to court documents filed by Peter Chakmakian, the attorney for Cross and Athey.

Richard Burns "displayed rage" at a Jefferson County Planning Commission meeting in an attempt to intimidate planning commission members into rejecting a community impact statement for Spruce Hill, court records said.

Cross and Athey have filed a counterclaim, seeking $1.25 million in damages from the plaintiffs, according to court records.

Assistant Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney Michael Cassell, who is representing the planning commission and the health department, said the suit "fails to set forth any facts whatsoever" that the Burnses would be harmed if the planning commission approved the community impact statement for Spruce Hill.

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