Army Corps to Earleville Dump Victims: No Free, Safe Water for You; FedsThumb Nose at Citizens, Cecil County Council

October 23, 2014

The US Army Corps of Engineers is refusing to provide temporary free bottled water to Earleville residents whose drinking water wells were polluted by a federal dredge spoil dumpsite, which the Corps and the Maryland Port Administration (MPA) are trying to re-open to new dumping after a 20-year hiatus due to pollution concerns.

During a meeting last week at the Chesapeake City offices of the Corps that included federal and state officials involved in the issue along with residents of the three communities affected by the dump, Tony DiPasquale, with the Corps’ Philadelphia regional office, said the federal agency had decided to refuse a request by the residents—and the Cecil County Council—to provide free bottled water until a proposed municipal water pipeline from the town of Cecilton is constructed and extended some seven miles to the affected communities in Earleville.

The pipeline is not expected to be in service until at least two years after the fall, 2015 date by which the Corps and MPA want to renew dumping at the Pearce Creek dumpsite owned by the Corps. But before dumping is resumed, the Corps must obtain a Water Quality Certification permit from the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE). The state agency has not yet rendered a decision on the permit application and citizen comments on the renewed dumping can be submitted until next week.

The Cecil County Council wrote a letter to the Corps several weeks ago in support of the request by local residents—in the West View Shores, Bay View Estates and Sunset Pointe communities adjacent to the dump on Pond Neck Road—that the Corps should be required to provide them with free bottled water as soon as dumping is resumed (if the required state permit is issued) and until the proposed Cecilton water pipeline is operational. DiPasquale said at the Corps meeting that the agency had not yet responded formally to the Council letter, but that the federal agency’s answer was ‘no.’

In response to a question from Cecil Times at the meeting, DiPasquale said that after consultation with the Corps’ legal counsel it was decided that “the Corps won’t provide that water” because the Corps considers the current well water “potable” and “We can’t provide water to people who have potable water.” And, he added, “Most of you are buying bottled water right now” so there is no reason for the Corps to provide such water when, or if, dumping is resumed.

Tim Kelly, the Corps’ project manager for the C&D Canal, said that MDE did not believe that the water quality situation was an “emergency” requiring immediate intervention.

However, the Cecil County Health Department has denied at least one well drilling permit in the area because the local aquifers were polluted by the Corps dumpsite—a decision that has been supported and endorsed by the state MDE, according to health department documents and a letter to the Cecil County Council from the MDE Secretary. (An independent scientific study by the US Geological Survey concluded in January, 2013 that the Corps dumpsite had seriously polluted local aquifers serving area water wells and Cecil County Health Department testing of some individual wells has found pollution in many but not all existing wells.)

Meanwhile, informed by local residents of the Corps’ recent verbal comments denying the bottled water request, members of the Cecil County Council on Tuesday (10/21/14) voiced concerns that the state and federal agencies were ignoring legitimate local requests. Council members also complained that they had not been officially notified by the Corps of the denial of their request.

“We need to weigh in on this,” said Councilor Diana Broomell (R-4).

County Council President Robert Hodge (R-5) said that “overall, I think we’re going in the right direction, getting water from Cecilton.” And “at the end of the day it will come to a conclusion where most people will be satisfied,” he added.

But Hodge made a motion, agreed upon unanimously, for the Council to send a follow-up letter to the Corps asking for a re-consideration of the bottled water for local residents.

At the request of local civic associations representing the area, Cecil Times presented Cecil County Council members with smelly black rocks coated with slime from a beach area adjoining the dumpsite that were collected by local residents. Several Council members expressed revulsion at the rock samples.

“We have White Crystal Beach”—noted for its pristine beach sand in the nearby area north of the dump, said Ken Cowley, a leader in the Bay View Estates community. But closer to and south of the dumpsite, “We’ve got the black rock beach that’s directly associated with this site.” Cowley presented the rock samples at the Corps meeting, and a Corps official sat at the table with paper towels trying to wipe the embedded slime off the rocks.

The slime issue underscores the local residents’ latest concern with the dump and the Corps’ handling of its plans for resumed dumping. Initially, in its application to MDE, a water discharge point was proposed for the Elk River. But then the Corps modified its application—and citizens were only officially notified of the change after a required 9/27/14 public hearing—to retain the existing Pearce Creek discharge area through a “sluice.” (Solids stay in the dumpsite but water is discharged through the sluice.)

Bill Haines, president of the Bay View Estates homeowners association, in a letter to MDE, said residents strongly oppose the Pearce Creek discharge point because the lake created there “releases water to their beaches” and the studies have shown that it also “contaminates” two key aquifers in the area. “This latest plan guarantees 100 more years of contamination,” he wrote.

But DiPasquale said the application change was made to save $1 million that it would have cost to create a new discharge point. “It’s incredibly more economical,” he said, to keep Pearce Creek for discharge. “It comes down to a million dollars—that’s what we’re talking about at this point.”

The local residents want the discharge of water from the dredge spoils that are deposited at the dumpsite to go via pipe back to the Elk River “where it came from.” The dredge spoil materials come from Upper Bay shipping channels in the Bay itself as well as the Elk River. The dumpsite is adjacent to both the Bay and the Elk River.

Citizens wishing to provide written comments to MDE on the state water quality certification application by the Corps may write to Elder Ghigiarelli, Deputy Program Administrator, Wetlands and Waterways Program, Maryland Department of the Environment, 1800 Washington Blvd. (Suite 430), Annapolis, MD 21230. Comments must be submitted by 10/27/14.

Meanwhile, Cecil County Planning Director Eric Sennstrom told the County Council that necessary changes to the county’s master water and sewer plan to reflect the Cecilton pipeline would be included in a broader update of the countywide plan. (The Cecilton pipeline will only serve the dump-affected Earleville homes and no one else living along the pathway will be allowed to tap into the line.) He outlined a timetable for introduction of the plan, a public hearing, and expected final Council approval by early January.

[UPDATE: At the meting with the Corps, several residents complained that the agency had not fulfilled its promise to post online versions of documents it filed with MDE in support of its water quality certification. Corps officials apologized for a delay in posting. A ream of documents regarding the Pearce Creek dump is now online at the Philadelphia Corps website at this link: ]

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4 Responses to Army Corps to Earleville Dump Victims: No Free, Safe Water for You; FedsThumb Nose at Citizens, Cecil County Council

  1. Kmidash on October 29, 2014 at 3:52 pm

    Considering Bay View Estates and West View Shores have approximately 200 homes currently built, and lots still available to build on, the $1,000,000 that is being saved for not relocating the discharge pipe works out to less than $5,000 per HOME. The common community areas as well as homes directly on the water are being adversely affected. Also take into consideration the increased taxes home owners experience to be in these communities and the total bill appears more reasonable to protect the homes and properties in these areas.

  2. Vincent Pfeiffer on November 5, 2014 at 7:34 pm

    Sounds like a post on a national media is in order. Does anyone remember Times Beach, MO.? What about the brownfields in Wilmington?
    Whatever happened to the flush tax money we have to pay to “PROTECT THE BAY” Every solution anyone comes up with involves the individual to pay through the nose, or in this case, hose…

    If this is how Maryland intends to make this area a tier 4 area only territory, turning our water into soilage is a wonderfully brilliant plan. Reduce property values first, then kick everyone out, just like Maryland did to most of Grove Neck road. Then the fingers point to every other agency while no agency accepts responsibility for any of it.

    The corp of engineers should never be permitted to ever dump bay sludge onto our soils anywhere especially Pierce Creek. Period!

    I would support dumping that crap onto the collective properties of county council. Why not use it to fill the craters over at Aberdeen Proving Grounds. That is an uninhabitable area close enough to Pierce Creek to accomplish their need to dump sledge and provide a limitless supply of land to blow up. Win Win

    Just saying…

  3. Erin M. on November 23, 2014 at 10:09 pm

    Here is what I haven’t been able to determine from any of the available news articles (I have not attended any of the PR sessions which may have provided the answer)– In the Environmental Report (assuming one has been completed) is there any recommendation for a Public Health Assessment? A request for such an assessment MUST be answered. It should be requested from and performed by the State Dept of the Environment but they will request the funds from the feds. This is one of the primary ways to “slow the roll” of a federal agency.

    I would also be interested to know if the waste itself falls under RCRA (which means if the waste contains anything on the fed Haz Waste list ( for example, chromium) then that waste must be disposed of in an approved Hazardous Waste Facility. The exception to this law would be if dredging waste has specifically been exempted from RCRA the way mining waste is exempted.

    If they are not exempted, the Corps of Engineers is in violation of the Clean Water Act. The final act of protest for when dumping is imminent is to file for an emergency injunction, which I hope the county’s attorney is planning to do if the Corps and Port continue to hold the county hostage this way.

    [CECIL TIMES replies: Thanks, Erin, for your informative comments and suggestions for dealing with the water issues due to the Pearce Creek dumpsite. The US Geological Survey only tested well water and examined water flow through the underground aquifers and did not actually test dredged material within the dumpsite itself. But we’ll try to pursue whether chromium showed up in any of the well water samples taken by the local health department.

    As far as the county government and county attorney possibly getting involved with an emergency injunction, that would seem to be unlikely. They have taken a back seat to the involvement of the mayor of Cecilton on coming up with the plan to run a water pipeline to the area– which is viewed as ‘the middle of nowhere’ by the PTB in Elkton. The Bay View Estates civic association has played a crucial role in examining the science behind the dumpsite. We will pass along your astute observations to the Bay View folks for their review.]

    • Rick O'Shea on November 26, 2014 at 4:36 am

      Holding the government accountable is key to this situation. They should fix the prior problem. Thanks,Erin.

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