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Following chemical spill Berlin Falls Park closes

Site ‘temporarily’ shut down for two to three weeks, official says

Berlin Falls Park is temporarily closed following a chemical spill last month at the site on Old Ocean City Boulevard in Berlin.

By Rachel Ravina, Staff Writer

(July 25, 2019) Berlin Falls Park is closed temporarily following an apparent chemical spill last month at the facility on Old Ocean City Boulevard, Town Administrator Laura Allen said at an advisory committee meeting last Thursday.

Additionally, Allen reported a $107,524.83 invoice from Chesapeake Environ- ment Services Inc. that de- tailed the labor and equipment required to “clean up and dispose of the contaminated soil.”

Berlin’s Town Council unanimously approved to pay the invoice during a meeting Monday evening.

Allen said the park is expected to be shut down for the next two to three weeks, but shouldn’t stay closed for longer than one month.

The chemical was listed as sodium hydroxide 50 percent (caustic soda or lye), according to an invoice from Chesa- peake Environmental Services, Inc. It was a base chemical with a pH level of 13, which is higher than a neutral pH level of 7.

Since the spill, Allen said town officials have “been continuing to review the property to identify any other hazardous materials that may need to be removed.”

Following the clean-up, Allen said “we received clear- ance from the fire marshal to have the fireworks” on July 3 at the site on Old Ocean City Boulevard.

However, Allen said after conversations between the Worcester County Fire Marshal’s Office and Chesapeake Environmental Services, “we received advice to go ahead and temporarily close the park so we did so.”

Allen said town officials were notified of the situation around 11:45 a.m. on June 26.

Berlin’s Mayor Gee Williams said the spill was located “adjacent to two ponds.”

Managing Director Jeff Fleetwood said last month that a Facebook post circulating on social media alerted people about the spill. He also said at least one turtle died.

Town officials said they contacted the consulting firm EA Engineering, Science and Technology Inc. They then called Chesapeake Environmental Services and the Maryland Department of the Environment, which also investigated the matter.

Williams issued a statement following the incident detailing the efforts to rid the area of the hazardous materials. He said tests were done and “no chemicals were found” in the ponds.

Williams added that a chain link fence, silt fencing and an absorbent buffer were installed around the spill site following the chemical removal.

When asked about the circum- stances leading up to the spill, Allen declined comment.

“I don’t have anything more that I can say about that at this point,” she said.

A small group of townspeople voiced their concerns during a public comment portion of Monday night’s meeting about the funding and overall situation associated with the chemical spill at the park.

Berlin resident Donald Fletcher questioned the town’s liability in this

situation, because “if a demolition (contractor) knew that was there, chances are he’s responsible, and so I think maybe the town needs to use litigation to minimize this cost so to speak.”

Allen then attempted to put his fears at ease.

“I think it’s fair to say the town will take all the steps that it can legally and responsibly to recover the cost and the action associated with this situation.”

Allen also called parts of the in- voice “prospective,” which would cover “an action that has not yet happened.” When asked if the cost could increase, she said “that’s possible.”

“Jesus,” Fletcher responded.

Resident Shaun McGowan brought a 2017 report from EA Engineering Science and Technology, and asked for an “explanation” when addressing Berlin’s Mayor and Council.

“You were warned. They told you they were there,” McGowan said. “It wasn’t part of their report, but they at least they gave you a heads up. And from what I can tell, nobody acted on it. That’s negligence.”

While chemicals were found on site, according to the report, the particular chemical in question, sodium hydroxide was not one of them.

Others, like resident Deborah Fletcher, said she believes the town should completely rid itself of the property altogether.

“It’s a lemon,” Deborah said. “It’s a nightmare and stop the bleeding. Cut your losses.”