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Residents oppose proposed housing

May 29, 2003|By DAVE MCMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

An attorney representing a group of Jefferson County residents who are concerned about a plan to build a housing development on orchard property that straddles Jefferson and Berkeley counties says he has information that shows there are high levels of DDT, arsenic and diesel fuel on the property.

Shepherdstown, W.Va., attorney Andy Arnold has presented the information to the Jefferson County Board of Zoning Appeals and has argued to board members that the Paynes Ford Station subdivision should not be built.

Dave Ralston, the developer of the subdivision, says the levels of DDT, arsenic and diesel fuel are not as high as Arnold maintains, and he believes the land is safe for housing.

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The site for Paynes Ford Station, which would include more than 200 houses on about 157 acres, is south of the U.S. Coast Guard facility in Berkeley County and near the intersection of Bower Road and Paynes Ford Road.

About 17 homes in the development would be in Berkeley County and the rest would be in Jefferson County, Ralston said.

Arnold said he represents a group of nearby homeowners who initially were concerned about the density of homes in Paynes Ford Station.

Arnold said houses would be built on lots of about a quarter of an acre. Ralston said the lots would be about half an acre.

Because the section of Paynes Ford Station that lies in Jefferson County is in the county's rural zone, Ralston had to get special permission to build the subdivision from Paul Raco, director of Jefferson County's Planning, Zoning and Engineering Department.

Arnold appealed Raco's decision to issue a conditional use permit for the subdivision to the Board of Zoning Appeals.

Zoning appeals board members sent the matter back to Raco and directed him to review it based on issues relating to groundwater, traffic and soils, Arnold and Ralston said.

In the meantime, Arnold said, he learned there might be pesticide residue at the Paynes Ford Station property.

Arnold said information from the state Department of Environmental Protection showed there was DDT, arsenic and diesel fuel on the property.

At one site, the level of DDT was 20 times the acceptable limit and the arsenic and diesel fuel levels were up to 100 times the acceptable limits, Arnold said.

Arnold said he presented the information to the zoning appeals board and argued that the subdivision should not be built. The zoning appeals board directed Raco to collect information about chemicals at the site and report back to the board, Arnold said.

The zoning appeals board will meet to review the facts in the case and make a decision, Arnold said.

Arnold said he believes the zoning appeals board can stop the subdivision, although Ralston said he is not sure.

Arnold said he believed the Paynes Ford Station developers knew about the chemicals on the property but did not tell county planning officials.

Ralston said that type of information cannot be submitted to planning officials. Chemical levels in soils is not one of the 23 pieces of information that planning officials request when a development is being planned.

"Mr. Arnold knows that. I wanted things to be right. The last thing I want to do is harm anybody," said Ralston, who lives in the Reston, Va., area.

Ralston said soil tests at the site showed traces of arsenic. He declined to go into details about the level of the arsenic, saying it will be up to the state Department of Environmental Protection to determine if the levels are unacceptable and what, if anything, should be done at the site.

A press release issued by the Department of Environmental Protection said the agency is reviewing an application from Jefferson Orchards Inc. to clean up the site. Ralston is co-owner of nearby Jefferson Orchards, which is along W.Va. 9 near Kearneysville, W.Va.

The DEP release said further investigation will be done to determine if corrective work is needed.

There are several structures on the land, including a packing and equipment shed, a pesticide mixing station and three water wells, the DEP said. A petroleum underground storage tank was removed, the agency said.

Previous soil and groundwater sampling at the site has "detected areas of impact," the release said.

"Elevated concentrations of lead, arsenic, and pesticides have been preliminarily identified within the orchard area, including the mixing station and near storage areas," the DEP release said.

The release said chemicals of potential concern are volatile organic compounds, semi-volatile organic compounds, total petroleum hydrocarbons, herbicides, pesticides, lead, arsenic and, to a lesser degree, other metals, and asbestos.

DEP officials could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Ralston said he has obtained pre-approval for the Berkeley County sites from officials in that county. Berkeley County officials did not raise any concerns about possible chemicals at the site, Ralston said.

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