Quantum Loophole on Thursday reiterated that miscommunication between the company, its subcontractors and government officials was the cause of the recent environmental violations.
At a public meeting, Frederick County residents and officials pressed Quantum Loophole for more definitive answers about why the violations occurred, citing the environmental covenant Quantum Loophole had in place at its project site.
However, company representatives went on to say that the violations stemmed from a misunderstanding, despite saying that everyone involved with the project was fully trained and knowledgeable about environmental agreements and other documents related to how to work at the project site.
Quantum Loophole plans to build a large campus of data centers at the former Alcoa Eastalco aluminum smelting plant near Adamstown. Earlier this year, the company illegally discharged water that reached the Tuscarora Creek, which flows through the project area.
The discharges occurred over a month period between April 21 and May 24, according to an inspection by the Maryland Department of the Environment.
Quantum Loophole halted all site development after being notified of a dewatering violation by the Maryland Department of the Environment. The department ordered the company to stop all dewatering, place warning signs near the creek and take samples of the discharges.
The department tested the stream water on June 6 and 7 after analyzing samples and concluded that there are no health and environmental threats at present.
Quantum Loophole representatives sat on stage Thursday in Hood College’s Hodgson Auditorium, as Frederick County community members and elected officials filled the seats, listening to a presentation about updates on the project.
Scott Notteboom, the company’s chief technology officer, explained what the company is building, including two new roads, public water infrastructure and public sewer infrastructure.
Quantum Loophole spoke on a panel with county government officials before the Frederick County Council in June. Knotboom said at the time that the company was conducting a “root cause analysis” of why the illegal irrigation was done.
The answer to that analysis, Notboom said, is that Quantum Loophole and its project partners made a mistake.
“I take responsibility for all my contractors, all my engineers, all my consultants,” he said. “There was a miscommunication on how to do things.”
The dewatering plan distributed to the project team was unmarked and created a miscommunication about what dewatering procedure should be implemented, which contradicted the environmental covenant established at the former Eastalco site.
An environmental agreement attached to the site states that any groundwater encountered during dewatering processes “will be containerized at all dewatering operations on the property and analyzed prior to disposal.”
Quantum Loophole’s dewatering procedure does not contain or test groundwater after extraction before it is released.
Knotboom said the quantum loophole did not discharge water directly into Tuscarora Creek and the discharge of water flowed downstream.
The Maryland Department of the Environment inspected the project site in April and May and wrote multiple compliance reports. In a report dated May 8, the inspector wrote that a disconnected hose extended from a manhole on the site to the edge of Tuscarora Creek.
“The soil at the end of the hose … was washed bare by leaf litter, indicating that the hose discharged water at this location,” the report said.
In another compliance report from May 26, the inspector wrote, “Based on today’s observations, I estimate that the discharge to Tuscarora Creek (water) continues.”
Noteboom presented a list of improvements that Quantum Loophole will implement with the project.
- Complete control and analysis of groundwater after extraction
- A Program Manager and a second Environmental Compliance Manager are deployed onsite
- Increases compliance reporting requirements
- Expanding training, delivery and approval of Site Environmental Agreement and Environmental Management Plan.
- Improving communication with relevant agencies and the community
“While no one is perfect, repetition is the only option to ensure this never happens again,” Notteboom said.
During the question-and-answer session, Adamstown resident Hope Green stood up with a stack of documents in her hands. Greene owned multiple properties on Moundville Road, including a farm by Tuscarora Creek. She quoted pages from the Environmental Agreement, particularly pages two and three.
Page two states that any activity on the property or soil management area must comply with the requirements of the Site Management Plan.
Page three states that the property owner must implement the requirements of a site-specific health and safety plan in accordance with the site management plan when conducting any excavation on property that extends to the groundwater table.
This page clearly states that any groundwater must be contained and tested after extraction.
Green noted that the site management plan was prepared by GeoTechnology Associates, which is working with Quantum Loophole on the project.
“How could you miss that? You say all these protections are going forward, but how can we believe you if you miss it in two or three pages, and the GTA wrote the site management plan embedded in the environmental agreement?” she asked.
Notboom said Quantum Loophole hired people the company viewed as highly experienced and knowledgeable, but “nobody’s totally perfect.”
Steve Black, president of the Sugarloaf Alliance, told Quantum Loophole representatives that he disagreed with Noteboom’s assertion that Quantum Loophole did not endanger the community because the Maryland Department of the Environment found no health or environmental risks in the creek.
“No one knows what’s in the water flowing down Tuscarora Creek,” he said. “Basically, you’re a car going over the speed limit through a neighborhood, and you’re not killing anybody, but it’s still putting everybody at risk.”
In a statement to the News-Post, Black also criticized Noteboom’s explanation of why the environmental violations occurred.
“Given the experience and stature of their subcontractors, one has to wonder how so many violations could have occurred,” Black said in a statement. “Glad to hear they stopped breaking the quantum law when they got caught.”