Completion of sewage plan sought

Commissioners hire consultant for plant at Key High School

Solution a year away

Design and permits for discharge system needed from state

July 16, 1999|By David L. Greene | David L. Greene,SUN STAFF

The county commissioners hired a consultant yesterday to design a discharge system and apply for the permits necessary to operate the idle sewage treatment plant at Francis Scott Key High School.

Campbell and Nolan Associates of Bel Air -- hired for $31,560 -- are expected to complete the design within six weeks. The firm will then apply to the state Department of the Environment for a discharge permit, the first of two permits necessary to release treated sewage into the environment.

The project is at least a year from completion. In the interim, the school system will continue to haul up to 7,000 gallons of sewage each day to Westminster's treatment plant several miles away. The hauling costs the school system about $9,000 a month.

The commissioners are trying to rescue a troubled project they assumed from the county Board of Education in April.

The school system built most of the $800,000 plant last year, but never completed it after it was disclosed that construction was done without the necessary permits.

"It's on its way," Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge said yesterday. "Isn't that wonderful?"

Roadblocks might remain. A group of Union Bridge residents, angry that the plant was built without permits, has a lawsuit pending in Circuit Court. Residents are asking that the state Department of the Environment impose civil penalties against the school system and order the plant dismantled.

The MDE, which has not punished the school system, has filed a motion to dismiss the suit. A hearing on the motion is scheduled Sept. 1.

The county hopes to simply add pipes to the facility to carry effluent into a nearby wetland.

The remaining work -- including consultant fees and construction and hauling expenses -- is to cost about $240,000, money that will come from the school construction budget. That amount could skyrocket, however, if a judge decides the current plant must be rebuilt.

"If they made that wastewater treatment plant go away, we'd have a serious problem," said J. Michael Evans, county public works director.

The county hopes to complete the project by August next year, but officials do not know how long the state might take to issue permits. The commissioners said yesterday they hope to quell public concerns early so the project can move forward quickly.

But Steve Luckman, chief of the municipal discharge permit division at the MDE, said he has no reason to assume that public opposition to the facility will not recur.

"Considering the problems they had with the other location, I doubt things will go that smoothly," Luckman said.

The school system had hoped to build about a quarter-mile of pipeline that would discharge effluent into a tributary of Little Pipe Creek. The county has proposed a much closer site for discharge -- a wetland just behind the school.

Commissioner Donald I. Dell said yesterday the county may manage portions of future school construction projects.

"We have some expertise on staff they don't have," said Dell, noting the county's public works staff and environmental experts. "They're educators and teachers."

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