Officials say Howard can handle growing sewer needs

Savage plant expansion one of several options

June 18, 1999|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

With hundreds of homes, businesses and offices planned for southern Howard County in the next decade, county and state officials reassured residents and elected officials last night that area sewage treatment plants can handle the growth.

County public works officials explained their options, which include a $32 million expansion of the Little Patuxent sewage treatment plant in Savage by 2002, at an hourlong meeting in Ellicott City's George Howard Building.

About 25 people attended the meeting requested by two Democratic elected officials -- state Del. Shane Pendergrass and County Councilman Guy J. Guzzone.

State environmental officials followed the county meeting with one of their own -- a required first step in the permit process for an expansion project to increase the plant's capacity from 18 million gallons a day to 25 million gallons.

Environmentalists and some elected officials are alarmed that the Savage plant -- the county's sole facility -- is already nearing capacity while Baltimore's Patapsco Sewage Treatment Plant struggles to meet standards for filtering out chemicals like nitrogen and phosphorus. There is concern that new homes will overwhelm the system.

"The question is, during the next three years, how are we going to deal with whatever new flow is created?" Guzzone said before the hearing. "We're at capacity right now."

James Irvin, Howard's public works director, and Robert M. Beringer, the chief of utilities, said the county can divert 2 million more gallons a day of sewage to the Patapsco facility under a recent agreement, and, in a pinch, can reactivate a small plant that has been unused for the past decade.

Irvin and Beringer said the county could also buy extra capacity from Baltimore County, or use a sewage plant in Anne Arundel County.

If all failed, they said, the county would stop issuing permits for new homes. Beringer said a new home is projected to produce 250 gallons of sewage daily.

Over the last 11 months, he said, Howard's plant has handled an average of 16.2 million gallons of sewage daily. The plant can handle as much as 36 million gallons a day in a brief emergency like a tropical storm, but the county is planning an expansion to handle 25 million gallons a day in three years.

The county also has a pumping station on Route 108 in Centennial Park that can divert several million gallons of sewage daily to the Patapsco plant if needed, Beringer said.

Irvin said Howard's plant is doing a better job cleaning sewer water than Patapsco, and at less cost.

"I'm not reassured," Nancy Davis, a board member of Howard's Sierra Club chapter and chairwoman of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters, said after the meeting. "I'm really upset we would send sewage to the treatment plant that doesn't treat it," she said, referring to Patapsco's inability to screen some chemicals that harm the Chesapeake Bay.

Pendergrass and Guzzone said they felt somewhat better after the meetings.

"It sounds like the county has factored in sort of a juggling act. My director [Irvin] says he can juggle the capacity," Guzzone said.

Pub Date: 6/18/99

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