The residents say they each paid up to $13,000 extra to have their homes next to a heavily wooded stream valley, only to learn that a developer planned a major sewer line through the tall oaks, beeches and poplars.
Now they are attempting to persuade the developer to reach a compromise with them, but they say he seems unwilling to do so, dismissing them as "no-growth" extremists.
The residents of the Longmeadow community near Bel Air and the developer of the Wysong Branch sewer project talked for the first time Wednesday at a meeting also attended by Harford County Councilwoman Theresa M. Pierno, a Democrat representing District C.
"It was not a very pleasant meeting," said Mike Cook, one of the residents opposing the sewer project. The opponents call themselves the Friends of Bynum Run. Wysong Branch, the stream that the proposed sewer line would parallel and cross, is a tributary of Bynum Run.
The residents deny they simply oppose more growth.
Rather, they say, they're worried that the construction of the sewer line would require felling many trees that stand up to 75 feet tall, and they fear that ensuing erosion would foul Wysong Branch, classified by the state as habitat that could support native trout.
"They did not come to negotiate," Sharon Toly, another Longmeadow resident, said of the sewer project's developer and his consultants.
"Their bottom line was cost and they offered us no assurances that they would put forth a good-faith effort to explore alternatives."
The state Department of Natural Resources and the Army Corps of Engineers are considering a wetlands permit for the sewer project. But officials at those agencies said the developer still has not adequately explored alternatives to building the sewer line through the stream valley.
The residents say real estate agents never told them about the proposed sewer project and led them to believe the stream valley was a strictly protected wetland area. That enticed many of the more than two dozen residents to pay premiums of $8,000 to $13,000 for the privilege of living next to the land.
The sewer line, which would run for more than a mile along the stream, "has been expensive already," said Tom O'Laughlin, an engineer for Morris & Ritchie Associates, the company designing the line.
The developer, Stanley Lloyd of Jarrettsville, said he has spent -- nearly $1.4 million to buy commercial property to be served by the sewer line and to do engineering work for the line.
Mr. O'Laughlin said that changing the position of the sewer line ++ to accommodate the residents' concerns would add to that cost. He added that the residents' complaints stem from "the anti-growth sentiment in the county."
Installation of the sewer line also would open up more properties for development and replace failing septic systems that serve some area residents, Hickory Elementary School and a few county buildings.
One nearby development site, to be called Hickory Overlook, is slated to have about 300 residential units. Mr. O'Laughlin, whose company also is doing engineering work for Hickory Overlook, said that development is contingent on the sewer proj- ect.
One alternative already studied by the developer would be to run two sewer lines -- one along U.S. 1 and one along Route 543 -- to serve Mr. Lloyd's small commercial development in Hickory. Mr. Lloyd's consultants say that alternative would be 10 times more expensive, more than $3 million instead of about $350,000.
But Mr. O'Laughlin said the developer would study whether the sewer line could be moved away from the immediate area of the stream.
Mr. Lloyd said recently that he would consider another alignment that would avoid the stream valley entirely, but his consultants now say that route would be unworkable because it would require pumping stations and would require hooking into an existing sewer that is over capacity.
Mrs. Pierno, who said the dispute represents a larger problem with residents not being properly informed of adjacent development projects, said she wanted to see a meeting of the minds on the sewer project.
"We'll see whether they will take this seriously," she said of the developer and his consultants.
"I think we can probably work out a compromise," said William T. Baker Jr., director of the county's Department of Public Works. He has arranged a meeting for April 28 to be attended by the residents, the developer, County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann and state and federal wetlands regulators.
The residents and the developer also are scheduled to meet again April 28 to discuss possible alternative alignments for the proposed Wysong Branch sewer interceptor.
Several council members already have said they favor moving the sewer line to accommodate the residents' concerns.
The council is considering whether to add the sewer project to the county water and sewer plan. The panel expects to act on the plan next month.