Balto. Co. wins round in border battle Curb on wastewater seen as impediment to Hampstead growth

August 19, 1998|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,SUN STAFF

In a ruling that could jeopardize the construction of homes and efforts to attract business to Hampstead, a Maryland appeals court has agreed with a group of Baltimore County residents fighting to save their rural side of the border.

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals ruled Monday that Carroll County cannot increase its discharge from Hampstead Wastewater Treatment Plant into the Piney Run trout stream until water temperature tests are made and new hearings are held.

The battle over the wastewater treatment plant has been the most contentious in a number of border disputes. While Carroll County has designated Hampstead and Manchester growth areas, just across the county line Baltimore County has tried to preserve large chunks of agricultural and forested land.

In June, the state selected Baltimore County's Piney Run area to receive $3 million in Rural Legacy money designed to save farms and natural resources.

Baltimore County residents, who called the ruling Monday "a major victory," have long fought the discharge. They say it causes erosion and pollution of the stream that feeds into Loch Raven Reservoir, a major metropolitan water supply.

"It's as though [the court] copied our brief," said G. Macy Nelson, who represented the Baltimore County landowners.

"They agreed with everything we said."

But Hampstead Town Manager Neil Ridgely said the decision could jeopardize the construction of 560 homes and efforts to win major employers because development plans were approved with the assumption there would be increased sewage treatment capacity.

The court decision is the latest development in a long-running battle by the Piney Run Preservation Association against the discharge from the Hampstead treatment plant.

In 1993, the association and other parties fought Carroll County's request to modify the plant's permit to increase the discharge into the stream from 500,000 gallons a day to 900,000 gallons a day.

The Maryland Department of Environment approved the request, and an administrative law judge and Baltimore County Circuit Court upheld the decision, based in part on testimony from environmental experts who concluded that the presence of trout indicated that Piney Run was healthy.

But the Court of Special Appeals faulted the state Department of Environment for failing to consider water temperature and for placing the burden of proof on landowners to show that the increase in effluent would pollute the water.

The court nullified the modified permit and remanded the case to the Department of Environment to determine the impact the discharge would have on water temperature.

"We're glad the landowners finally won," said Victoria Woodward, who lives along Piney Run and was among those filing the suit.

Woodward said the residents' goal is to limit the discharge into Piney Run, and in the long-term work to eliminate it altogether.

The plant is discharging an average of 545,000 gallons of effluent a day into the stream, said Gary Horst, deputy director of the Carroll County Department of Public Works.

Nancy Young, an attorney for the state environment department, said the plant would not necessarily have to curb its discharge as long as the pollutants released into the stream do not exceed the level allowed under the old permit.

But Nelson and Woodward disagreed, saying they believe the court's ruling specifically limits the discharge from the plant to 500,000 gallons a day.

Carroll County has no plans to modify plant operations until it receives direction from the state, Horst said.

Carroll County has spent more than $300,000 to lessen the facility's impact on the environment.

Recently, the county ripped up a concrete flume and replaced it with a meandering stream bed to slow and cool the water as it flows away from the treatment plant. Inside the plant, the county has made changes to reduce the pollutants discharged, Horst said.

In the long run, the challenge will be to accommodate one county's growth area and another county's agriculture area, said Jack Dillon, director of the Valleys Planning Council, which lobbied to have Piney Run designated a Rural Legacy Area.

"It's definitely an imperfect world," he said.

Pub Date: 8/19/98

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