Health threat in Taneytown Carroll County: Failing city sewer system demands prompt action.

August 02, 1996

WHEN IT RAINS, it pours, as we all know in soggy Central Maryland. So it should come as no surprise that Taneytown is no exception to the rule.

Heavy rains this year have repeatedly exposed a long-neglected problem with Taneytown's antiquated, over-burdened, leaking sewer system that has flooded basements of homes with untreated wastewater and disgorged raw sewage into the streets.

The state Department of the Environment has ordered Taneytown to upgrade its inadequate sewage treatment plant, stop releasing sewage into streets during storms and develop an emergency overflow plan. Otherwise, the Northwest Carroll municipality will be cited for sanitation and environmental violations.

Instead of quibbling about proposed solutions, and about the high costs, it's time for the city of 5,000 to move promptly toward a series of solutions -- not in confrontation with the state, but in cooperation, so that state and possibly federal grants may help with the work.

First, the overflow emergency plan must be developed to avoid environmental pollution and public health dangers. Closing storm drains and pumping sewage to storage trucks are two potential solutions. But eventual expansion of the municipal treatment plant is not the immediate solution.

Second, new connections to the system must be halted. Expanding the customer load over 10 percent in the past year exacerbated the problem; their fees did not contribute to any solution -- or pay for uninsured damages to other residents' flooded homes.

Third, the list of possible causes of storm water infiltration -- and resulting backups into homes -- often cited by city fathers needs to be examined and confirmed. Bids to test the system for these inflows will be opened this month, seven months after the problem was evident.

The city has been slow to upgrade the 40-year-old system, to replace cracked and porous clay pipes, and to expand treatment plant capacity. And it has been intentionally lenient in allowing new homes to connect to the system, to promote growth. That must change.

This is not another debate about the desirability of growth, but about a serious public health problem. The state can't afford to ignore that danger. Neither can Taneytown.

Pub Date: 8/02/96

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