Carroll homeowners using private septic systems will soon pay three times more to have them pumped out and cleaned than do residents in surrounding counties.
The county's first septic waste treatment facility is set to open in Westminster at the end of this year. At that time, the millions of gallons of waste routinely pumped from the county's nearly 21,000 private septic tanks will no longer be allowed to be sprayed on farmers' crops.
Instead, it will have to be dumped into the new facility, at a cost of $740,000 a year -- or 9 cents a gallon.
At that rate, septictank owners here will pay more than three times the amount charged in Montgomery, Baltimore and Frederick counties.
And that has the county's 14 septic waste haulers -- who collect the payment from homeowners -- concerned.
"What they're talking about are out-of-sight prices," said Dale Fogel, owner and president of Fogel Septic and Refuse Co. in Sykesville.
In Baltimore County, where septic waste can be dumped straight into the county's sewage system, haulers are charged 2 cents a gallon.
In Frederick County, the rate is 2.7 cents a gallon. And a yearly fee charged in Montgomery County makes the cost about 3 cents a gallon.
To the owner of a typical 800-gallon household septic system, the 9-cents-a-gallon fee would mean an additional$72 on top of the $80 to $100 pumping fee charged by haulers. Carroll homeowners currently do not pay any per-gallon fee because no facility exists for septic waste treatment.
"This (higher cost) will bepassed right on to the customer," Fogel said.
Carroll's facility,with a daily capacity of 26,000 gallons, is considered too small to handle the amount of septic system waste generated in the county, haulers says.
In fact, Fogel says his company would handle almost 26,000 gallons of waste a day itself.
"The limits are just too low," he said.
"What are we supposed to tell some guy with sewage backedup in his basement?"
Except for the cost of treating the waste, no other details concerning the facility have been worked out.
Lastweek, county public works and planning officials met privately with representatives of the haulers to discuss ideas.
"We really need their input," said John T. "Jack" Sterling, director of public works for the county.
"We want to resolve some of the lingering questions."
Among the lingering questions is what haulers supposed to do ifthe plant has reached its capacity for the day.
With that level likely to be reached daily, haulers are especially concerned about a proposed county ordinance that would force haulers to treat any septicwaste pumped in Carroll County at the Westminster facility.
If county haulers find the facility inadequate to handle their waste, Sterling said, Carroll could work out a treatment agreement with other counties. "We're going to be flexible, so we can do what works."
Other issues to be worked out include the plant's hours, which tentatively are set for 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.
But Sterling says the county has made no decision about hours or about limitations a mandatory in-county disposal ordinance would place on haulers or septic-system users.
The Westminster treatment plant will be operated by the city and paid for by the county.
In a 1986 agreement, the city and county decided to build the $1.9 million facility using money from a grant the city had received to upgrade its 3 million-gallons-a-day sewage treatment plant.
For years, most septic waste in Carroll has been sprayed on crops, becoming an effective fertilizer.
However, a federal law that goes into effect on Jan. 1 will ban the use of untreated septic waste as a fertilizer.
The county's septic waste treatment plant will be the only way for septic waste to be treated in the county.
Waste treated there will then be sent through the regular sewage treatment system, where it will be treated again.
According to county and city estimates, 20,912 household septic tanks are in use in Carroll, holding a total of 16.7 million gallons of septic waste.
About 340 commercial septic tanks, holding 755,000 gallons, also are in use.
Septic tanks need to pumped clean once every three years, officials said.
At that rate, the Westminster facility will treat about 7.9 million gallons of septic waste a year.