San Martin property values hit?

Vern and Linda Truitt peer into the shed that houses their well.

GILROY
– As information on the health effects related to the
perchlorate posioning of South Valley wells trickles in, residents
of San Martin, Morgan Hill and north Gilroy have another concern:
What will the contaminated water situation do to property
values?
GILROY – As information on the health effects related to the perchlorate posioning of South Valley wells trickles in, residents of San Martin, Morgan Hill and north Gilroy have another concern: What will the contaminated water situation do to property values?

Several residents brought their concerns to a meeting Wednesday night at the San Martin/Gwinn school. One resident who had his home on the market even claimed that a prospective buyer backed out of the purchase when the home’s well tested between 3 and 4 parts per billion of perchlorate. The state action level is 4 ppb.

Housing values in the affected area from south Morgan Hill to northern Gilroy range from $600,000 to more than $1 million.

Lelah and William Maxey also attended the meeting which drew 800 or more residents, and said they, too, were in the planning stages of selling their home. However, the perchlorate situation has changed everything.

“We’re having (a home) renovated in San Jose,” said Lelah Maxey, who lives at 10445 Garcia Lane. “But as things are now, we can’t even think about that.”

The retired couple planned on moving into the San Jose home but those plans are on hold.

“It’s going to be devastating for us,” she said. “We’re counting on the money from this house to support us. That’s a big worry for us.

“We may be in a situation where we have to live in this one and sell the one in San Jose.”

Real estate firms are taking the issue seriously and, despite limited information are making sure both buyers and sellers of homes know about the potential dangers of perchlorate.

“What we have done is make sure potential buyers see the articles on it,” said Kevin Moles, co-owner and manager of Intero Real Estate.

Moles said the lack of information available about safe levels of perchlorate and what its effects are have made it rough for both prospective buyers and sellers in the affected area.

“It’s a very presumptuous position to be in,” he said. “It’s going to be a tough row to hoe.”

Meanwhile, the Maxeys, who have lived on Garcia Lane for nearly 25 years, haven’t had their home tested for perchlorate yet. Lelah said she has been trying for three weeks to get officials to come test her well but has been told that Olin Corp., which caused the contamination, would be testing their well and were sending out letters within a week to let them know when her home would be tested.

“We’ve been going ’round and ’round about it,” she said. “How are you supposed to trust Olin when they’re the ones responsible for this? It’s wait and see and don’t drink the water.”

Perchlorates leached into the underground aquifer – and into many private wells – from a former Olin Corp. plant on Tennant Avenue in Morgan Hill. The plume extends at least seven miles south. Water district and Olin contractors are in the process of testing hundreds of private wells southeast of the old site that they said could be in danger of contamination.

Neighbor Linda Truitt, who said she received the same notice about Olin testing the wells, also was skeptical about having the company at fault checking their water supply.

“I’m not really knowledgeable about all this, but it doesn’t seem kosher to me,” she said.

Truitt also said she was worried that when people learn of the perchlorate issues in the area, they probably will think twice about buying a house.

“Who’s going to buy a house with this problem?” she asked. “Come buy our house, but you have to have bottled water.”

But, for now, there are many unanswered questions regarding the perchlorate. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has claimed that it could take 30 to 40 years to clear up the contamination of the wells.

But Larry Ladd, who for the last several years has been following the nation’s perchlorate problems and runs the Web site www.perchlorate.org, believes property values will bounce back from the perchlorate problems, even if the chemical doesn’t go away.

“Don’t sweat it,” Ladd said. “Wait a year, and there won’t be much problem.”

Ladd lives in Rancho Cordova, a growing suburb outside of Sacramento that has had more than its share of perchlorate trouble. Since 1997, Rancho Cordova no longer can use 20 municipal water wells due to rocket fuel contamination.

The city’s problems began in 1983 with the Aerojet Liquid Rocket Testing Facility. Although perchlorate was a known agent occurring when working with rocket fuel and there were available means to test for the chemical, it was not tested for by either the company or the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, allowing the perchlorate problem to remain undetected until 1997. As a result, some Rancho Cordova residents were exposed to close to a one-in-500 cancer risk from chemicals in their drinking water, Ladd said.

“They basically set up a rocket Disneyland,” Ladd said. “We had a huge perchlorate problem.”

Measurements of perchlorate in the city’s water are as high as 300 ppb. However, Ladd said members of the community banded together to fight the problem, demanding answers from officials and have gotten into a battle with the city of Folsom over their rights to area surface water.

He said the work of the community actually brought property values up since the detection of perchlorate in their water.

“Our real estate value appreciated,” he said.

Ladd said perchlorate is a more-common problem in the United States than many people think. Nearly every state has producers of perchlorate and areas like Las Vegas and Long Island, N.Y., have had issues with high perchlorate levels in their drinking water. Not only that, but because of the confusion over what levels of perchlorate are harmful, action levels in states are quite different, ranging from 1 ppb in Massachusetts, Maryland and New Mexico to 18 ppb in Arizona, according to Ladd’s Web site.

Ladd said Santa Clara County has been good about the way it has handled the problem, opening up and telling people there is a problem instead of trying to keep it secret.

“It’s a very widespread problem,” said Ladd, who claimed that many areas cover up any knowledge of perchlorate levels. “At least Santa Clara has come clean.”

Joe Zertuche of Century 21 South Valley said property owners may be nervous and angry about perchlorate, but property values aren’t hurting.

“Yeah, we’re all concerned, many of us live out there,” he said. “I don’t think it’s affected property values at all – not one cent – in the short term. I haven’t had a single call about it.”

Zertuche said checking the water is common for prospective buyers.

“We used to worry about high nitrate levels and chloroform,” he said. “Now we’ll have to look for (perchlorate), and find a way to get it out of there.”

However, Zertuche said the market for homes in South Valley still is strong, and he expects a huge boom in real estate values once the bottlenecking construction on U.S. 101 is completed and the new lanes are opened.

“As soon as 101 opens up, you’re going to see a huge jump in property values, perchlorate or no perchlorate,” he said. “It’s all about speed, ‘How fast can I get to downtown San Jose?’ People will use bottled water for drinking and use perchlorate water for other things.”

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