ELK MILLS — An Elk Mills resident, who is frustrated and unhappy with the answers he’s getting from the Maryland Department of the Environment about water runoff onto his property, is not taking no for an answer.
Steve Bristow, owner of 10 acres wedged between the Big Elk Creek, the CSX railroad and Elk Mills Road, met Thursday with officials from MDE, State Sen. Stephen Hershey’s chief of staff John Fiastro, Delegate Jay Jacobs and two experts he hired for testing at the property.
After the meeting, Harry Hunsicker, chief of the eastern division of water management compliance with MDE, said he would talk to his supervisors about the possibility of doing regular water monitoring on the property at different locations for a period of time to try to determine if any tainted water is entering Bristow’s property from the neighboring Cargill plant, which distributes fructose, corn syrup and other products.
But, he made no promises.
This water runoff problem has been brewing for years.
Bristow said he noticed the quality of the water in his seven ponds declining several years ago.
“I used to have lots of baby fish, but now there’s almost none,” he said.
Over the years, Bristow has spent $30,000 to hire experts to test his pond water and to determine what’s causing a large number of trees on his property to die.
“Tests show some of my ponds had iron content as high as 2,700 millograms per liter,” Bristow said. “High iron content kills fish eggs.”
He has also had five different labs test water for E-coli bacteria, which came back at 1,600 and 2,400 parts per million as shown on Bristow’s reports.
“I just would like them to build a berm around my property, so none of their water runs onto my land,” said Bristow, of the neighboring facility he thinks is causing harm to his ponds and trees.
Bristow has a theory that some sugars get into the runoff and enter his ponds, causing algae blooms. He also takes issue with the facility being able to install a 20-inch pipe in the bottom of their storm water management pond.
Hunsicker said MDE has done a series of tests at the industrial facility for things like sugar levels and E-coli, which came back negative.
Sen. Hershey, who was unable to make it, sent his chief of staff to the meeting Thursday.
Fiastro, who worked for Hershey’s predecessor Sen. E. J. Pipkin, said Thursday that he got involved in the Bristow property while still working for Pipkin.
It was Fiastro’s second visit to Bristow’s home.
“We’ve sent at least three letters to MDE requesting action, including testing of Bristow’s ponds if they don’t accept his private test results,” Fiastro said.
“I’ll allow it,” said Bristow.
Hunsicker said all of Bristow’s private test results point to Cargill as the culprit, but when MDE tested at Cargill, they found no evidence that was the source.
“MDE has investigated and determined that Cargill has nothing to do with Bristow’s ponds,” Hunsicker said.
Hunsicker explained that Cargill operates under a general storm water permit issued by MDE.
“They recently reapplied,” Hunsicker said, adding, “There an added benchmark test to the permit which is for chemical oxygen demand (COD), which has a 120 limit.”
“MDE contends that the changes to Bristow’s ponds are naturally occurring with high iron content from deer, turkeys and geese,” Hunsicker said.
The two experts hired by Bristow seem to disagree with MDE’s findings.
Charlie Rhodes of Bata Environmental was hired by Bristow to test his ponds.
“The new product at Cargill has a higher iron content,” Rhodes said.
Russell Carlson, an arborist hired by Bristow, said Thursday that he found a pattern of dying trees in the drainage area, but can’t determine the cause without further testing.
“Something is causing a higher loss of trees at a rate two to three times over what’s normal,” Carlson said.
Fiastro pushed MDE and Bristow to try to reach some sort of agreement to settle this issue.
“This won’t be put to bed until regular testing agreed upon,” Fiastro said. “This has gone on far too long.”
“I can’t believe MDE doesn’t want to simply monitor this,” Jacobs said. “It’s logical to monitor upstream and downstream.”
Jacobs accused MDE of “just blowing this thing off.”
“It blows my mind that the Big Elk Creek flows right next to this and MDE isn’t concerned,” Jacobs said.