Negotiations between the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission and the Crown community are yielding little progress as construction ramps up in the Gaithersburg community.
Westbrook Partners, one of the developers handling the Crown site at Fields Road and Sam Eig Highway, are concerned about two large water mains underneath Neighborhood 3, which is slated for future residential, transit and school development. Construction has not begun on that portion of Crown, but units in the other two-thirds of the Gaithersburg site are currently being built.
The two mains in Neighborhood 3, 36 inches and 60 inches in diameter, were installed in the 1960s. WSSC has formed an ad hoc committee to discuss safety measures for building near large-diameter water mains. According to Gary Gumm, a chief engineer at WSSC, large mains can fail “catastrophically.” Smaller pipes may hold together if they suffer a leak, but the larger mains can break apart, causing an explosion that can throw debris over 200 feet, according to WSSC documents.
The committee, which first met in April, is discussing the concept of an 80-foot setback, where buildings would be constructed at least that far away from large water mains. Westbrook may have to redesign the plan for Neighborhood 3 if WSSC enforces the setback.
WSSC spokesperson I.J. Hudson said developers are currently required to abide by a 25 foot-setback.
Gaithersburg’s city council has expressed concern that the committee’s progress is too slow for the rapidly developing Crown community. According to Gaithersburg Planning and Code Administration Director John Schlichting, Westbrook has communicated to the city that they will not file any construction plans for townhomes near the water mains until the setback issue is resolved.
Westbrook offered to pay $3 million for new water mains, but only if they were reimbursed through credits. WSSC spokesperson Jerry Irvine said the Crown development does not qualify for those credits, and according to Hudson, there are no similar reimbursements the utility could offer.
Because of limitations on fill dirt and grading over any WSSC pipe, Hudson said the utility asked Crown to make changes to its construction plan. WSSC is still reviewing the submission, he said.
Westbrook Partners Executive Vice President Bobby Zeiller declined to comment on any negotiations taking place between the developer and the utility.