Lineboro seeks aid for septic relief Grant would help residents build wastewater project

Wetlands plan envisioned

Health risks, property values stir request for funds

February 09, 1996|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,SUN STAFF

With more than 60 percent of their septic systems failing, a group of Lineboro residents has turned to a state-backed, self-help wastewater program for relief.

Concerned about health risks and property values, they have recruited 35 of approximately 65 property owners in the unincorporated rural community along the Pennsylvania border, forming the Lineboro Environmental Wastewater Treatment Association (LEWTA).

"We've known about it [the wastewater problem] for a lot of years -- probably 20 years or more -- because when people went to sell or buy property, the ground wouldn't pass a perk [percolation] test," said Leif Shock, the group's president. "From the environmental standpoint, we always realized that we had to keep our streams clean, to protect our wells and the wells of our neighbors."

So far, officials from the Maryland Department of the Environment have said that routine testing of streams in and near Lineboro in the past six months have shown no evidence of pollution.

A committee of about eight property owners has taken the lead in applying to the Maryland Small Towns Environment Program (STEP), a program in which the community makes its own decisions on a wastewater system.

In the three-phase STEP project, a letter of intent must first be filed with the Maryland Department of the Environment, said Helen Spinelli, a county comprehensive planner specializing in wastewater and sewer projects.

After an engineering study and cost analysis are completed in phase two, the application for an MDE grant will be written with assistance from the county staff. In that way, whatever grant money is available will already have been reserved for the project, she said.

"If everything is in order -- at county and state levels -- the grant will be approved and the money sent back to the county so it can be spent on the project," Ms. Spinelli said.

The LEWTA committee is in the process of incorporating, said Mr. Shock. As a nonprofit association, it could receive low-interest loans to help finance a portion of the project.

Mr. Shock said he believed a monthly $35 fee paid by each property owner would be sufficient to pay for LEWTA's portion of the cost.

Fifth in state

The Lineboro wastewater project is only the fifth such self-help project undertaken in Maryland, Ms. Spinelli said.

The committee has looked into similar projects conducted on the Eastern Shore, including two in St. Mary's County and one in Queen Anne's County, said Kevin Dickmyer of the LEWTA committee.

"Unlike in other communities, the Lineboro situation differs because the residents have recognized the problem and want to do a lot of the work themselves to resolve it," Ms. Spinelli said.

Another difference, Mr. Dickmyer said, is the lack of space in Lineboro. Old septic systems can be replaced, but today's regulations require them to have drain fields if the ground doesn't allow percolation.

"Some of the properties are so small, there is no room to add drain fields," Mr. Dickmyer said.

Since new septic systems are not an option and building a wastewater treatment plant would be prohibitively expensive, Lineboro residents are considering a man-made wetlands system that will cost from $200,000 to $500,000, depending on the cost of about 6 acres required for the project and on how much work the residents can do themselves.

"A wetlands system costs a lot less than building a wastewater treatment plant," Mr. Dickmyer said.

In such a system, which was developed by Tennessee Valley Authority engineers, holding areas, or beds, are dug, lined and seeded with bulrush plants. Wastewater from homes flows into the wetlands where the plant roots cleanse the water naturally.

Alternative system

The water that leaves or evaporates from the wetlands is similar in quality to rain water, said David T. Duree, chairman of the Carroll County Planning Commission. Mr. Duree, who built a wetlands system at his New Windsor home last year, is president of Innova Ltd., a consulting firm that helps develop alternative wastewater systems.

Mr. Duree said he became interested in alternative wastewater systems as a planning commission member after learning how expensive it was to build and maintain wastewater treatment plants.

Mr. Duree said he is not concerned about possible conflicts between his planning commission position and his business interests.

"If a client is ever involved in securing a project approval from the county, I will immediately step aside," he said.

That arrangement is acceptable to LEWTA, Mr. Shock said. "Nobody has hidden anything."

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