Kemp Lane homeowners to pay double the rate to access clean water
by Sylvia Carignan, originally posted on May 5, 2016
After enduring more than a decade of uncertainty about contamination in their tap water, the owners of five Kemp Lane homes will pay double the city’s usual rate to get clean, safe water.
Frederick’s aldermen voted Thursday to approve a request from Fort Detrick to connect the five homes to a municipal water line.
As part of an agreement the homeowners signed with Fort Detrick, they will pay twice as much for their water than other city residents, and are responsible for the cost of any repairs to their water line connections.
Residents of the five Kemp Lane homes have been receiving shipments of bottled water for more than 10 years.
While testing groundwater around Fort Detrick in 2005, the Army Corps of Engineers found perchloroethylene and trichloroethylene in three residential wells along Kemp Lane, which is adjacent to Area B, a 399-acre federal property near Fort Detrick’s main post.
The Army Corps of Engineers has sampled groundwater around the post for years to watch for toxins seeping through the bottom of Fort Detrick’s capped landfills at Area B.
Those landfills contain sludge from its former decontamination plants, ashes from its incinerators, potentially radioactive sludge from a sewage disposal plant, drums of the industrial solvent trichloroethylene, chemical materials, biological materials and herbicides.
In response to those findings, the Army has paid for shipments of bottled water for each of the homes for a decade.
They still have tap water, which comes from wells on their properties. The bottled water is intended for cooking and drinking, though some are concerned that bathing and washing clothes in the tap water also exposes the residents to contamination.
Kathy Whitmore and her husband built their home, one of the five on Kemp Lane receiving a supply of bottled water. The Whitmores and their eight children have lived in the house since 1995.
“We had no idea we were going to raise our family on a street that had contaminants,” she said.
Whitmore was the only resident of the Kemp Lane homes to speak up in the public hearing Thursday.
“I don’t want to drink the [tap] water. I don’t want my kids to drink the water,” she said.
The Kemp Lane homes sit on the edge of Area B and are outside Frederick’s corporate limits.
Since they are county and not city residents, they are subject to doubled water rates if they are connected to the city’s water supply, according to Tracy Coleman, deputy director of the engineering division of Frederick’s Department of Public Works.
The doubled rate compensates for the fact that the county residents don’t pay city taxes, but are using a city service, Coleman said.
At the public hearing, Whitmore pleaded for the mayor and aldermen to reconsider their water rates.
“We’ve been showering and raising our kids there and watering our gardens, and we just ask for some graciousness in trying to bring a solution to this,” Whitmore said.
Frederick’s aldermen were concerned Thursday that the other Kemp Lane homeowners were unaware of their doubled water rates and their responsibility to maintain water lines on their property.
Though Alderman Michael O’Connor believed connecting them to city water was “the right thing to do,” he said there was little room for an alternative.
“I don’t think they have much recourse to say no at this point,” he said.
Alderwoman Donna Kuzemchak said a short delay may be necessary to ensure the homeowners knew what they were getting into.
“I think that delay would be a maximum of a month,” she said.
Alderwoman Kelly Russell was uncomfortable with delaying the process any longer.
“I am not in favor in making these folks wait one more minute longer than they have to for clean, safe drinking water from their taps,” she said.
Frederick resident George Rudy, who is a member of the Fort Detrick Restoration Advisory Board, spoke up in the public hearing.
“You’ve got to get these people off of bottled water,” Rudy told the mayor and aldermen. “The solution that the Army presented to them was inadequate.”
Kuzemchak said the Army should be responsible for repairs to the water lines, if they are needed in the future.
“The Army should be paying for what it costs,” she said.
Each of the aldermen except Kuzemchak voted for the city to approve the water line connection.
After the Corps of Engineers found perchloroethylene and trichloroethylene in the Kemp Lane homes’ wells, the Army started paying for bottled water shipments.
Randy White, president of the Kristen Renee Foundation, said in an email that the foundation felt the city water connection is “too little, too late.”
White’s daughter, Frederick resident Kristen Renee White Hernandez, died of brain cancer at age 30 in 2008.
Family members suspect her death is tied to contamination from Fort Detrick. Family members formed the foundation in her memory.
White believes Fort Detrick should have spent more money to clean up environmental contamination from Area B sooner.
According to Lanessa Hill, a spokeswoman for the Fort Detrick garrison, the Army is paying $62,000 to connect the Kemp Lane homes to municipal water.
The construction process is expected to take two to three months.
The Army will continue to provide bottled water to those homes until the connection is made, Hill said. Those water shipments cost the Army about $2,700 per year.