Heavy haul blocking roadway brings citizen concerns
With multiple power plants going up in Brandywine over the next year, getting the materials necessary to complete the buildout can be strenuous and will require time, inconvenience and heavy lifting.
But Gail Fisher, an 88-year-old woman living on Johnsontown Road right next to the Charles County Fairgrounds where the company is operating, said Lockwood Brothers Inc. is blocking the entrance and exit to 14 homes in the area.
The company is using the CSX railway to transport crates with machinery for the power plant to Prince George’s County and ultimately to their Brandywine destination. By using the railway, the company is avoiding having to travel more than 30 miles up the road from the Aqualand Marina where materials are being shipped in.
But Fisher said, as an 88 year-old woman who has occasional trips to the doctor’s office, being blocked in can be an inconvenience, even for a short amount of time, she said.
Fisher said she has talked to people with the company about the move and they have given her the information she has asked for, but the only official notice she has received has come in the form of a letter left on her porch. And there “really was no explanation for blocking the road,” she said.
“It notified me that they had a contract with the fairgrounds where they would be closing our road two or three days a week for 12 weeks for ‘hopefully’ no more than 15 minutes at a time,” Fisher said. “They told us they’d only be going for 15 minutes at a time, but they’ve got a sign up saying that they may be operating anywhere from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. That’s a huge window.”
There are doctors who live in the homes on Johnsontown Road as well as a fireman, Fisher said. Having them blocked in at any point can be dangerous. All it takes is one accident with a crane, she said, and any move can go from “15 minutes to hours.”
And the county fair, which begins officially on Sept. 15, is right around the corner.
J.T. Hindle, president of the fair’s board of directors, said the fairgrounds are fine and the Lockwood Brothers are doing everything they are contractually obligated to do.
Work will not proceed during the fair, Hindle said, and is being completed in a timely fashion. “They’ve been a pleasure to work with so far,” Hindle said. “We’re still on schedule for the fair.”
The move should be completed sometime in October, according to Crystal Hunt, a public information officer for Charles County Government.
During the first loading operation on Aug. 30, Hunt said, the county’s inspector did note that Johnsontown Road was blocked off for approximately five minutes, but did not impact residents, Hunt said.
The county did not grant the company the right to block Johnsontown Road, which is a privately owned road, Hunt said. However, she said, the single-track CSX railway that crosses the road is owned by the rail company giving them the right of way.
Still, Hunt said, Lockwood does not have the authority to block the road or use the road for shipping their materials.
“On the contrary, the county has tried to ensure additional protections for the residents and has made it clear that the road is private and not to be used by the contractors,” Hunt said.
Four more pieces of equipment were scheduled to be loaded on Sept. 8 and the remaining 14 pieces of equipment will be moved to the fairgrounds at a later date after the fair.
Commissioner Ken Robinson (D) said Lockwood Bros. has been careful not to violate the terms of their agreement. If they do violate the terms, he said, “we can pull the plug immediately.”
“I’ve heard that staff is quite satisfied with the way the operation is moving forward,” Robinson said.
Robinson said using the railway is the best apparent solution to moving the materials through the county. This way, roadways are not blocked for a lengthy time period and materials can be easily shipped into Prince George’s County.
Hunt said the contractors have to provide 24-hour notice before any materials are moved and must notify the county’s emergency services department as well just in case someone needs to be transported from the area. But Fisher said that is not enough.
“They say they’ve got a 911 message system and the company will clear it up as soon as possible, but that’s not very comforting if your house is on fire,” she said. “Or if I need to get to the hospital.”