Sewer plan has high stakes

As vote nears, Owens lobbies council

August 03, 1999|By Matthew Mosk | Matthew Mosk,SUN STAFF

Fears of suburban sprawl had Anne Arundel County leaders poised last night for debate over a long-range plan for extending public water and sewer pipes.

The detailed proposal had been headed for defeat before the County Council, but heavy lobbying from County Executive Janet S. Owens appeared to give the measure enough support to at least win a temporary reprieve.

Several council members said they wanted to postpone last night's scheduled vote in order to give planners time to revise the proposal.

As of 10: 30, the council had not begun discussion of the proposal.

Members of Owens' staff met individually with council members during the past week to try to win support.

Disagreement over the water and sewer master plan -- a highly technical document as thick as a phone book -- surfaced in recent weeks when council members began to recognize that their votes carried serious consequences for development. They realized that wherever they extend water and sewer service, shopping malls, apartment buildings and houses could follow.

"I think the major concern about this bill is how it's going to affect growth," said Council Chairman Daniel E. Klosterman Jr. "I want to see the whole picture before I make a decision."

County planners were preparing to paint that picture with an elaborate presentation at the public hearing.

The proposal, they planned to tell council members, calls for strengthening the county's ability to move water around so that shortages could be solved by piping it from other areas. It also proposes building a new water facility in the northwest county, possibly in partnership with Howard County.

The more controversial elements of the plan include the expansion of two sewage treatment plants -- one in Annapolis and one on the Patuxent River. Expanding the plants' capacity to treat sewage increases the number of houses and businesses that can be built in the areas around them.

Marvin Bond, Owens' chief of staff, said the Annapolis expansion makes sense because it will allow development of a medical center planned for Parole and the David Taylor research facility, a former government site that the county hopes to lease to private companies.

Critics, however, worry the Annapolis expansion could pose an environmental risk because it will require some sewage to be piped through a line under the Severn River.

In interviews before the meeting, some council members said they were prepared to object to the format in which the plan was presented.

The county revises its water and sewer plans every three years, but this time planners undertook a major overhaul. They rewrote the document and drew new, more accurate maps. But the decision to rewrite the plan, rather than simply list changes as they had in past years, may have backfired.

Councilwoman Barbara D. Samorajczyk said she needed to see what specific changes planners had made in order for the proposal to comply with state requirements.

"It's just too important to pass without knowing what you're agreeing to," she said.

But Thomas C. Andrews, the county's top land use official, said he would tell council members to debate the changes raised within the plan, rather than the form it has taken.

"This isn't something that's written in stone," he said. "Instead of trying to determine if the maps are folded correctly, they should be focusing on the substance."

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