The St. Mary's County Planning and Zoning Commission voted Monday night to recommend a small farmstead subdivision near Oakville on part of a larger property undergoing inspection for evidence of munitions buried there in the 1950s. The proposed development still must be approved by county commissioners.
The five 15-acre lots--called McIntosh Subdivision Section 2----are located in the southern section of a 792-acre tract of land owned by Virginia developer Robert S. Gollahon, of King George. Gollahon also is proposing to build 153 houses and several larger farmsteads on his property. The land fronts on Route 235 south of Oakville and is flanked by Friendship School Road and McIntosh Road in Hillville.
Recently, the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) told county officials that state records indicate that a munitions cleanup of the site in the early 1990s may not have been completed. The former owner of the land, Thiokol Corp., a division of Cordant Technologies Inc., sold the site in January to Gollahon. In the 1940s, the site was owned by a defense contractor that manufactured detonators.
A Waldorf-based company specializing in cleanup and disposal of old munitions sites found more than 1,300 pounds of munitions detonators between 1992 and 1994 and disposed of them. But an official of the company, Human Factors Applications, told The Washington Post that in 1994 the cleanup was halted by Thiokol officials before it was completed. Thiokol officials dispute that version of events, saying the work was stopped because reports indicated the cleanup was completed.
"There is clearly a disparity over the status of the property," wrote Thomas M. Russell, former director of the county's Office of Environmental Health, in a report to planning officials. "The Gollahons believe the property has a clean bill of health. MDE believes that there is the potential for additional areas contaminated with ordnance."
Although the Planning and Zoning Commission approved the five 15-acre farmsteads, the rest of the development will remain on hold until state and county officials comb through "selected spots" in the northern section of the site where the rest of the subdivision would be built.
"There were detonators on that property and they were removed. . . . It's been searched and cleared," said John Norris, a representative of Gollahon and his development firm, Southern Resources Management.
Norris said workers using electromagnetic detection systems walked the sites in question last week and found "four nails and a piece of tin."
"There were selected spots that were deficient in [MDE] record-keeping," Norris said. He said Gollahon and Thiokol are working together to inspect the site again and review records of the earlier cleanup.
Quentin Banks, a spokesman for the MDE, said his agency raised concerns about the areas of the site that still may contain detonators, but the final green light on safety will have to come from the state fire marshal.
Norris told Planning and Zoning Commission members "there will be a finalized report on your table" when final review of the rest of the McIntosh Subdivision comes before them.