SALISBURY – Officials in Wicomico County this week rejected a 234-acre land donation after an environmental study revealed potential pollution issues.
On Tuesday, the Wicomico County Council voted to reject a 234.67-acre land donation from Connelly Mill Associates LLP.
The property, located next to the Henry S. Parker Athletic Complex and within the City of Salisbury corporate limits, is valued at $1.06 million and consists of wooded parcels and two borrow pits that serve as future stormwater ponds.
The county has until Dec. 29 to transfer the property based on a contingency outlined by the landowners. In November, however, the council agreed to table the resolution to accept the land until further environmental studies could be conducted.
As requested, county staff and representatives of John D. Hynes and Associates came before the council on Tuesday to present the findings.
Weston Young, assistant director of administration for Wicomico County, told the council a Phase I environmental report of the property indicated four potential environmental concerns.
On the site, crews found buried weather stripping, debris – which included a burned out car and a deteriorating recreational trailer – and backstops associated with the City of Salisbury’s firing range.
“We learned that the fire range had been there over 50 years and wasn’t always contained,” he said. “Some of the deputies we spoke to remember going through trails and shooting at pop-up targets, so that is something to keep in mind.”
Young also said old aerial photos indicated that structures existed on the property, which leads to concerns about underground sewer systems.
“In summery of the Phase I … if that was all we had we would recommend additional tests and additional time,” he said. “However, as part of this we did a limited Phase II.”
In that additional study, Young said three water samples were collected at the east, west and central portions of the property and tested. He explained arsenic, chromium, lead and nickel found in the samples exceeded acceptable levels.
“If we were to accept this donation, further study would be required before we make an ultimate decision …,” Young said. “The executive’s office is uncomfortable with accepting the donation based on what we’ve seen.”
Young told the council, however, that the landowners would extend their offer into 2018 if the county covered their $18,000 tax bill. If the county were to accept the land donation, Young said further studies would be required to determine the source of the pollution and correct the problem.
“This wasn’t the news we wanted to hear on the site because the site has potential,” he said.
Councilman Larry Dodd expressed his hesitation for accepting the property.
“I’m uncomfortable accepting if we had to use the taxpayers’ money to clean it up,” he said. “I would like to see all of this addressed before we have a vote.”
Councilman Marc Kilmer questioned the cost of the cleanup.
Rich Rhoads, manager with John D. Hynes and Associates, said the cost and timeframe for the cleanup would depend on how far the pollution extends.
Councilman Joe Holloway questioned how far the county executive’s office would go to accept the property.
“How much are they willing to spend … to acquire this property?” he said. “Is it time to wash our hands of it and forget it?”
After further discussion, the council voted 6-1, with Councilman John Hall against, to reject the land donation.