S. Carroll faces longer wait for water

State delays approval for drilling well

July 25, 1999|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Parched residents of Carroll County's most populated area will have to wait longer than they expected for more water.

Last month, local officials thought they had an agreement with the state that would allow them to drill wells for South Carroll on state land at Springfield Hospital Center. But last week, those officials said the deal is stalled over state concerns about the rapid growth in the area.

Sources at several meetings that were held to negotiate the agreement said the state does not want to open the floodgates to more development in the area. More public water could lead to more houses in Eldersburg and possibly in the Route 140 corridor in Finksburg, where private wells supply water.

Construction of a $3 million well system in Sykesville cannot begin until the state approves the Water Utility and Supply Agreement, tentatively negotiated last month but not final.

"We are in the process of completing a legal review which involves four state agencies," said Dave Humphrey, spokesman for the state Department of General Services.

J. Michael Evans, county director of Public Works, attributes the delay to a number of issues, including interagency disputes.

"If the state cannot come to an agreement among its own agencies, we have a problem," said Evans. "We may have to look elsewhere, but we are dealing with constraints of time and money because of budget issues."

The county has spent about $100,000 in testing, design and planning the wells, a small filtration plant and connecting lines. It has promised to meet all state requirements, including an allocation of 1 million gallons a day for state use, an annual report detailing the amount of water taken from the ground and how it was used, and language on Smart Growth, the governor's initiative to control sprawl and direct development to existing communities.

"I know they wanted a Smart Growth clause and we agreed to that," said Evans. "Water will not be used for any project that is not consistent with Smart Growth."

Sources, who would not be identified but who attended the June 25 meeting to hammer out the agreement, have said the state is using the wells as leverage to curtail rampant development in Eldersburg.

"I don't believe there is any danger of constraints on development," said Gary Horst, county director of Enterprise and Recreation Services. "Clearly, there is an interest on their part that [public] water not spread into Finksburg."

The county expected a final document within 30 days after the meeting, but it has heard nothing from the state.

"I am on eggshells," said Horst. "We don't have the agreement."

In 20 years, South Carroll has more than doubled in population, but its utilities have not kept pace. More than 6,500 households on the public system are coping with water restrictions.

Without the state's go-ahead, the county cannot begin construction, which will take about a year.

If the agreement unravels, Carroll will look elsewhere for ground water, Evans said.

Heat and drought conditions led to an increased demand for water, which often taxes the daily capacity of 3 million gallons drawn from Liberty Reservoir and chlorinated at the Freedom Water Treatment Plant.

The county scrapped plans to build a $16 million second plant on Piney Run Lake in favor of the well system and a $5 million expansion of the Freedom plant.

Carroll is negotiating with Baltimore, which owns Liberty Reservoir and the surrounding watershed, for more land and for a 2 million-gallon increase to the daily allocation. Evans, Horst and several county officials will meet Aug. 5 with George Balog, Baltimore's director of Public Works.

Pub Date: 7/25/99

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