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County, health department disput well approval

June 12, 2007|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

WASHINGTON COUNTY - County officials say a carwash well that should not have been approved might have contributed to a subsurface sinkhole problem on Maugans Avenue - something the well owner disputes.

The Washington County Health Department legally approved a well for Maugans Avenue Car Wash in 2004. However, the health department didn't forward the case to the county, which probably would have rejected the well, County Administrator Gregory B. Murray said.

But Health Department spokesman Rod MacRae said Friday that it looks as if there was no agreement at the time for the department to work with the county when reviewing wells.

He found a February 2005 letter written by Theodore J. Gordon, the department's director of environmental health at the time, that seems to introduce the idea of a joint review process.

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Ghattas, who owns the carwash, said the link between his well and the sinkhole problems is unreasonable.

"I don't even use the well," he said.

Ghattas said he spent thousands of dollars to put in the well because municipal water for the carwash was expensive.

"The (well) water was there, but it was muddy and murky and we couldn't use it," he said.

MacRae said the health department followed state law in approving Ghattas's well request.

"The concern is the protection of drinking water supplies," he said. Sometimes, though, a well might be allowed near public water for another reason, such as irrigation, MacRae said.

Murray said the county's water and sewer plan is stricter than state standards and prohibits wells in areas served by public water.

The health department is supposed to include the county in the approval process, he said.

Murray, the county's former water and sewer director, said the joint review process was in place when the carwash well was approved, but might have been skipped because of recent turnover in the health department.

A sinkhole as wide as 30 feet opened up on Maugans Avenue, near the car wash, last month.

Joseph Kroboth III, Washington County's public works director, said it's the third sinkhole in that stretch in about a year.

Ghattas said there were signs of sinkholes on the road before he tried to use his well.

A state geologist has recommended a procedure for filling subsurface caverns on Maugans Avenue, at a cost of $200,000 to $250,000.

Kroboth told the Washington County Commissioners last week that the carwash well drew down the water table and might have played a part in creating nearby sinkholes.

"It's certainly a factor, in our opinion," he said.

MacRae said the joint review process is being followed for well requests now.

Murray said there's nothing left for the county to do.

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