Neighbors are trying to save Piney Run Maryland officials deny dumping treated sewage to blame for stream's state

September 09, 1997|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,SUN STAFF

When Victoria Woodward and her husband bought their house along Piney Run in northern Baltimore County eight years ago, the stream ran clear and was small enough to hop across.

Today -- four years after she and her neighbors launched an uphill court battle against the dumping of treated sewage into the stream -- Piney Run is filled with slimy green algae. It's 20 feet across in places, with banks eroding 20 feet down.

"This stream is one of the most devastated streams in north Baltimore County," she said.

State officials, who recently won a court decision allowing the practice, deny the dumping of treated sewage is responsible and suggest the community take its fight upstream to Carroll County officials, who they say permit development that is harming the stream.

For four years, the Piney Run Preservation Association has been fighting the stream's demise by challenging a state permit allowing Hampstead Wastewater Treatment Plant to dump 900,000 gallons of treated sewage into Piney Run each day.

But last month, a Baltimore County Circuit Court judge upheld a decision by the Maryland Department of the Environment to give the discharge permit to the Commissioners of Carroll County.

Judge Christian M. Kahl ruled that G. Macy Nelson, a lawyer for the Piney Run neighbors, was unable to prove that the increased discharge had raised the water temperature to a level that could threaten fish living in the stream.

Mary B. Gaines, president of Piney Run Preservation Association, said her group hasn't officially decided whether to appeal Kahl's decision to the Court of Special Appeals, but, "If you could see some of the damage that is going on you'd understand why we just can't stop."

Gaines said when she started the preservation group 10 years ago, "I just assumed the safeguards were out there. I thought everybody who depended on drinking water was protected. That's just not so."

The Piney Run, a tributary to the city and county's water supply at Loch Raven Reservoir, is classified as a stream protected for the propagation of trout and as a public water supply.

In his opinion, the judge acknowledged that Woodward and another plaintiff in the case "testified that the value of their land had decreased due to the effluent discharged into the Piney Run, in that it had caused erosion and diminished the quality of water in the stream."

But he also agreed with state officials who argued that the increased discharge did not violate state temperature regulations for the stream.

Woodward, who said her group has accrued $100,000 in legal fees in their battle, disagrees with that assessment. She warns that the stream's demise has implications for property owners and for the area's drinking water.

"I think it's a battle that's important, not to me, but everybody. It's a drinking water watershed," she said.

Quentin W. Banks, spokesman for Maryland Department of the Environment, defended the state permit and said the dTC Hampstead plant is following state regulations for treating sewage before dumping the discharge.

He suggested that the Piney Run neighbors raise the issue with politicians and government officials in Carroll County, where storm water runoff from development is also causing problems in the stream.

Pub Date: 9/09/97

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