Area faces hold-up in water relief

Parched county still waiting for approval to drill new wells

`I am on eggshells'

Deal with state stalls over concerns about development

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, 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 that 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 to 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 yet 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 is 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. A million gallons for state agencies is not a sticking point for us. We have agreed on that figure."

Curtailing development

Sources, who asked not to 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 further 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. We have no plans to take it beyond the current service area."

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

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

Growing fast

South Carroll was designated 20 years ago as a planned growth area. It has more than doubled in population to 28,000, but its schools, roads and utilities have not kept pace with that growth. For the third consecutive summer, 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.

"I stay concerned," said Evans. "We have not heard anything back from the state. The final agreement was expected by the end of this month. We anticipate they will be good to their word and we are expecting the document."

Looking elsewhere

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

"Springfield has water reasonably well concentrated in a small area," he said. "It is the best place to look for water, but not the only place."

Persistent heat and drought led to an increased demand for water and that increase 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 second, $16 million 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 City, 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 other county officials will meet Aug. 5 with George G. Balog, Baltimore's director of public works, "to express extreme interest the county has in finding an amicable and expeditious way to come to this request," said Horst.

"A combination of surface and ground water seems a prudent protection against droughts," said Evans. "If the state does not want to be prudent with the water supply, we will have to put wells elsewhere."

Pub Date: 7/25/99

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