After more than three decades, the wait for a solution to Fort Detrick’s groundwater contamination woes has become unbearable, some Frederick residents said Wednesday.
Frustration took over the Fort Detrick Restoration Advisory Board’s meeting, which was originally scheduled for May. Barry Kissin, a community member on the Restoration Advisory Board, and former Frederick Mayor Paul Gordon said the cleanup process is taking too long.
“We sit in these meetings and pretend like something’s being done,” Kissin said. “Do we care, or do we not?”
After having drilled wells hundreds of feet deep to test groundwater contamination left behind from decades of research on post, the Army’s hired contractor announced at the meeting that its crews are using shallower wells to determine the contaminants’ potential spread.
According to John Cherry, a representative of contractor Arcadis, the wells are about 40 feet deep and may help determine if any contaminants exist in the top layer of groundwater.
Arcadis is also using the shallower wells to determine whether any chemicals in groundwater have the potential to reach homes that might be built on developer Waverley View LLC’s Shookstown Road property.
If contaminants are found through the shallow wells and exceed safe levels, Fort Detrick Environmental Restoration Program Manager Joseph Gortva said, there is potential for vapor intrusion, where contaminants accumulate in indoor spaces.
The shallower wells have been installed and samples have been taken, but test results were not ready by Wednesday night’s Restoration Advisory Board meeting.
Preliminary test results of the deep wells, announced at the last board meeting in March, are not yet final but indicate unsafe levels of contaminants on the Waverley property.
“That’s really concerning ... there’s no way around it,” Cherry said.
Cherry noted that Wednesday’s meeting, and the presentation of the shallow well plan, was delayed by complications with drilling operations.
“Frankly, no one in the room believes it’s moving as quickly as we want it to,” he said.
Gortva said the Army Corps of Engineers has long-range projections for the cleanup, but those are dependent on current progress.
“We might have a feasibility report next year. It might be a year after that,” he said.
Fort Detrick’s environmental attorney, Gary Zolyak, sympathized with the handful of residents who spoke out at the meeting and reminded attendees that time is money.
“This money that we’re using to study and then make a decision is taxpayer money, which is in limited supply,” he said. “We are trying to find the best solution so that we spend your money the best way that we can.”
Gordon said the timeline for this cleanup had already grown too long. He was mayor of Frederick from 1990 to 1994.
“I was the mayor at the time that the calls came in from residents on Shookstown Road, that they were having water problems on their wells, of smell as well as taste,” Gordon said.
When he sent city crews to investigate, they reported back that it was beyond their ability to control.
“Something was seeping into our wells,” he said.
According to Cherry, groundwater in the region generally flows from west to east, across Area B toward Rosemont Avenue and Fort Detrick. However, groundwater under Waverley’s Shookstown Road property appears to flow south. Arcadis has not yet determined whether that might affect nearby communities, but its data suggest that any contaminants that may be present are not moving westward from the Waverley property, Cherry said.
Arcadis plans to continue drilling deep wells on the Waverley property and at Area B, with sampling scheduled for the fall.
The Army Corps of Engineers is working to complete a remedial investigation report and submit it for public comment, although a release date has not yet been set.
The next Restoration Advisory Board meeting has been proposed for Nov. 5.
Follow Sylvia Carignan on Twitter: @SylviaCarignan.