Stealth sewage plant

Howard County: Officials invited suspicion by failing to inform residents of plans at Glenelg High.

November 04, 1999

THE GATHERING storm over a proposed wastewater treatment plant near Glenelg High School in western Howard County offers a classic trifecta of development controversy:

Inflamed homeowners.

By-the-book bureaucrats.

A communication failure.

"We dropped the ball," admitted Karen B. Campbell, chairwoman of the county Board of Education. "It opens the door to hysteria."

Officials are trying to ram this down our throats, moaned one opponent. Because the school system and county planners failed to adequately inform nearby residents, they're left to believe authorities were trying to sneak something into place before anyone noticed, Ms. Campbell said. Notice was given, but in official forms the public doesn't always see.

The lapse is unfortunate, to be sure. The world of officialdom surely knows two things about the politics of such developments: You can't grant approval for them by stealth.

And if you try to, your problems will be magnified.

With planning time wasted and pressure building as an expansion of the high school is scheduled to be ready in two years, the county and school board now -- belatedly -- must explore alternatives.

Planners will try to determine if a nearby septic field can be expanded to accommodate the need. If not, a pipeline might be built.

One would think Howard officials might have learned from the experience in neighboring Carroll County. Officials there had to suspend use of a sewage-treatment plant, also for a high school, because they failed to inform not only the community but also state environmental officials who must approve permits for such facilities.

A new plant at Glenelg High seems the best option. Whatever route is taken, citizen and public official alike will be better served by a completely open process.

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