Within Fort Detrick’s perimeter, every square foot of contoured, grassy land, every brick paver and every planted tree serves a purpose.
Michael A. Gilbert is the Army garrison’s stormwater project manager. When a new building goes up, like the future home of the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, it’s Gilbert’s job to make sure the installation’s water quality isn’t affected.
The institute’s new building, currently under construction, requires a large parking lot. Since runoff from asphalt surfaces can carry toxic chemicals into local bodies of water such as Carroll Creek or the Monocacy River, Gilbert said a bioretention system was put under the lot.
In a typical bioretention area, trees are planted in a deep, soil-filled ditch lined with gravel at the bottom. Water flows into the soil, which catches some pollutants, and the trees take advantage of the water source.
Underneath the asphalt parking lot, the process is similar, with gravel helping the water drain through.
At the Fort Detrick firehouse, brick pavers replace some of the conventional asphalt in the parking lot, allowing water to flow through the pervious surface. A gravel pit at the end of a row of parking spaces collects and filters more water.
“We’re continuing to shrink our impervious surfaces, but still meet the mission requirements,” Gilbert said.
Fort Detrick’s stormwater management plan is regulated by the Maryland Department of the Environment. The state puts strict limits on the pollutants that can enter a body of water.
According to Shannon Moore, manager of the Frederick County Office of Sustainability and Environmental Resources, Maryland is one of the most innovative states for stormwater practices.
“It’s because we have important assets like the Chesapeake Bay we are striving to protect,” she wrote in an email.
Treating water quality, as Fort Detrick does, is a newer standard than just handling quantities of water efficiently, Moore said.
She noted that the kinds of stormwater management practices the garrison has taken on are “very innovative.”
Fort Detrick must ensure that water meets a certain standard before it flows off-post.
“We’re very, very conscientious of the community around us,” Gilbert said.
Some local residents and activists have long been concerned about the quality of the water that leaves Fort Detrick and the groundwater in the area.
The Army denied more than 100 individual claims of wrongful death and illnesses caused by contamination from Fort Detrick, including groundwater contamination, in 2015.
A class-action lawsuit filed by the Kristen Renee Foundation and local residents for $750 million, also claiming wrongful deaths and pain and suffering from environmental contamination, is awaiting a judge’s decision. The Army has asked the judge to dismiss that case.
Gilbert has held his current position for nearly 20 years. He said the garrison has historically taken a proactive approach to environmental stewardship.
He is proud of the work the garrison and his colleagues are doing to manage water quality.
“Never have I seen such conscientiousness in a group of individuals to protect the public,” Gilbert said.