Judge rules water plant in violation

Fines, which could hit $4.5 million, to be decided in November

Effluent too hot

Balto. Co. residents downstream sued to protect Piney Run

May 25, 1999|By Melody Simmons | Melody Simmons,SUN STAFF

Carroll County is violating the federal Clean Water Act at the Hampstead wastewater treatment plant, a federal judge has ruled, and may have to pay fines that could go as high as $4.5 million.

U.S. District Judge Joseph H. Young ruled in favor of a group of Baltimore County residents who have ignited a border war with their efforts to protect trout and drinking water in a stream that originates in Hampstead. Treated effluent from the plant flows into the stream.

Young ruled last week in a summary judgment that Carroll County's temperature data showed it violated the Clean Water Act on 183 days by releasing hot effluent from the plant into the headwaters of Piney Run. Civil penalties will be levied after a hearing in early November -- and the amount could be as high as $25,000 a day.

"The ruling is no surprise," said G. Macy Nelson, attorney for Piney Run Preservation Association. "The county's own documents show unequivocally that they were discharging a prohibitive pollutant -- heat. It's no secret."

Linda Woolf, attorney for Carroll County's commissioners, said, "We are still in the process of analyzing the opinion.

"The criteria that the Piney Run Preservation Association has requested to be imposed on this small county wastewater treatment plant has not been imposed on any other wastewater treatment plant in this state or anywhere else," Woolf said.

The county's data showed that the stream temperature exceeded the county-set limit of 68 degrees when measured at the plant and downstream, Nelson said. The hottest temperature recorded was about 74 degrees, he said.

Similar temperature data are being sought from Carroll officials in a second lawsuit by Piney Run Preservation Association, filed in Baltimore County Circuit Court.

Last summer, the state Court of Special Appeals nullified an attempt by Carroll government to increase the plant's allowed daily flow from 500,000 to 900,000 gallons after the court faulted the Maryland Department of the Environment for failing to consider water temperature in granting a permit modification for the increase.

The second lawsuit -- which seeks an injunction against increasing the amount of flow -- is awaiting a hearing date, Nelson said.

In February, MDE officials said they favored allowing the increase to 900,000 gallons with strict temperature regulations. But their failure to properly advertise a public hearing on the matter has stalled the permit increase, and a second hearing is set for June 11 in Butler.

For years, Carroll County officials and residents of Baltimore County have battled over the sewage treatment plant -- located off Route 30 in an area of dense development, yet two miles from rural homesteads in Baltimore County that flank the troutrich Piney Run watershed.

About 700,000 gallons of effluent is discharged daily into Piney Run, which flows into Western Run, part of the Gunpowder Falls watershed that is the source of drinking water for about 1.5 million metropolitan Baltimore residents.

Carroll officials have for years sought to increase the amount of effluent the plant can discharge each day as Hampstead continues to add subdivisions -- including construction of 560 homes.

But those efforts have been met with bitter protest from their Baltimore County neighbors, who say that the flow from the plant has caused erosion and other environmental damage that includes threats to spawning trout.

"With each victory, we just get stronger as a community on this issue," said C. Victoria Woodward, a member of Piney Run Preservation Association who claims her farm has been eroded by the heated effluent. "To me, that's the most important aspect. I'm very pleased."

Carroll County Commissioner Donald I. Dell said last night that he was unaware of Young's ruling. Dell said the commissioners would not agree to move the plant but are investigating installing a huge refrigerator there to further cool the effluent.

"We'll have to wait it out and see what the final sentence is going to be," Dell said of the impending penalties. "The county has liability insurance and that'll come into play now for whatever is needed."

Pub Date: 5/25/99

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