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Dirt Hill Park

Anonymous Complainers Sic Regulators on Clipper Mill Project

courtesy Draoi Allta
DIRTY WORK: Local environmental activists took this picture of the area bordering druid hill park where, they allege, streuver bros. eccles and rouse has been illegally dumping dirt and other debris.

By Van Smith | Posted 4/13/2005

Somewhere out there is a group of people, using the group pseudonym “Draoi Allta,” who managed in early April to kindle a campaign to make influential developer Struever Bros. Eccles and Rouse clean up its act at its Clipper Mill project in Woodberry. The name, Draoi Allta, is a Celtic phrase that translates roughly as “wild Druid” or “wilderness Druid.” The name is appropriate, given the group’s complaint: that Struever Bros. is allegedly using a forsaken corner of city-owned Druid Hill Park to dump soil from its adjacent $58 million project, which is turning a derelict, nine-acre foundry and machine-shop site into a corporate campus with residences.

“Howdy,” Draoi Allta wrote in an April 4 e-mail to City Paper. “Are you aware of the dumping in Druid Hill Park? The developer redoing the old foundry in Woodberry is using the park to dump dirt and debris from his site.” Attached were photographs showing the alleged dumping. Later, on April 6, another e-mail explained further that “an impromptu coalition of environmentalists is getting involved. . . . Publicity may help . . . since the developer is a major political contributor and thus far no one has wanted to do anything. What is happening is really wrong. Please go take a look.”

A site visit that day found large mounds of dirt straddling the northern boundary of the park, and in the park itself, along with piles of debris containing railroad ties, asphalt shingles, stumps, and other detritus. A length of silt fence, intended to keep sediment-laden runoff from entering the nearby stream, had been almost entirely covered over by the dirt piles. Other silt fences appeared to have been placed not to contain sediment from flowing into the stream, but to keep a makeshift road leading into the park from the Clipper Mill project from washing out in rainstorms.

Mixed in and around the piles were carved gravestones, many of them bearing Hebrew inscriptions and Jewish names. City Paper later learned from the Jewish Museum of Maryland, and from the city Recreation and Parks Department, that the gravestones’ carvings likely had mistakes in them, so they had been discarded in the park years ago for the city’s erstwhile stone-masons to use as raw materials.

Glenda Curtis and Shera Williams, members of the community activist group Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), arrived to assess the situation firsthand. A local environmental attorney, Terry Harris, also was there at ACORN’s request. Curtis proceeded to push dirt from the various piles into glass bottles to send off to a lab for analysis in case the soil contains toxic levels of contaminants; she expects to get the test results back in a month or so. The scent of creosote from the railroad ties wafted in the air.

Draoi Allta’s e-mails to City Paper also mentioned that the group had filed complaints with the city Division of Environmental Health and the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE). The regulators had different takes on the situation.

On April 8, MDE spokesman Richard McIntire wrote in an e-mail to City Paper that the piles in the park “will be cleaned up by [Struever Bros.] as the project closes. We found no evidence of current or on-going dumping. There is an approved engineering and sediment control plan in place. . . . U also have to realize that w/ all this rain we’ve had lately u’re gonna get some wash outs of sediment.” In an April 11 phone conversation, McIntire added that MDE inspectors had found “minor erosion and sediment housekeeping issues” that Struever Bros. agreed to fix.

Olivia Farrow, the city’s assistant health commissioner, told City Paper on April 11 that “there is no sediment control at all, at least from what I could see,” adding that “we hope Struever Bros. conforms by providing appropriate sediment control.”

First thing in the morning on April 11, City Paper met at the site with Struever Bros. officials Tim Pula and Fred Struever, and Connie Brown, chief of parks for the city.

“This is a very environmentally conscious company, in my opinion,” Brown remarked. “They do a lot for us,” including providing volunteers and other resources for regular park cleanups.

“They do have a pile up there, and I think some of their people got a little enthusiastic in stirring the dirt up, but senior management knows better,” Brown added. “The dirt pile grew further out than it should have been, and there is no sediment barrier there, and there should have been.” As for the Draoi Allta folks, Brown urged them to “demonstrate their concern with action,” by participating in park cleanups. “We can never get enough volunteers.”

Pula added that the dirt piles were placed there temporarily, and they represent a “win-win” for the company and the city, because dirt is “not cheap” and the city will be able to “use the soil that we don’t use for reclamation” of eroding land in nearby Robert E. Lee Park.

“We first got permission from the city to place the soil there last year,” Pula continued. “And we put all the required sediment devices around it, but the reality is, silt fencing is rather fragile, and you need to check on it. In this case it got knocked over, and we’re fixing it.” As for the railroad ties, Pula acknowledged Struever Bros. had removed an old railroad bed from the Clipper Mill property, but “we’ve not dumped any of that” in the park.

Struever added that the lot inside the park “was kind of a dumping ground before we got there, so it’s going to be cleaned up,” because the area will be an amenity for residents once the development is completed. Pula summed up by predicting that “when we’re done here it will be cleaner than we found it.”

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