Judge fines county $400,000 in wastewater suit

Balto. County residents say effluent in Piney Run threatened water, trout

February 13, 2000|By Brenda J. Buote | Brenda J. Buote,SUN STAFF

Carroll County must pay a $400,000 fine for violating the federal Clean Water Act at the Hampstead wastewater treatment plant, a federal judge has ruled.

Senior U.S. District Judge Joseph H. Young ruled in favor of a group of Baltimore County residents who have sparked a border war with their efforts to protect trout and drinking water in a stream that originates in Hampstead. Treated effluent from the plant flows into the stream.

Young ruled Thursday that Carroll County must pay a $400,000 fine for violating the Clean Water Act on 183 days by releasing hot effluent from the plant into the headwaters of Piney Run. The discharge of effluent in excess of 68 degrees Fahrenheit threatened trout and the water supply for 1.5 million people in Baltimore County, plaintiffs said. The county has also been ordered to pay the plaintiffs' attorney fees and has been barred from releasing effluent that is more than 68 degrees.

The ruling could change how Carroll officials run the wastewater treatment plant, which treats effluent for Hampstead's 4,200 residents.

"I think it will get their attention," Edward A. Halle Jr., vice president of the Piney Run Preservation Association, said of the ruling. "The taxpayers of Carroll County may put pressure on their elected officials to protect the stream."

Commissioner Donald I. Dell said Carroll officials would have to review the ruling before deciding whether the Board of County Commissioners would appeal.

"I am strongly recommending an appeal," said Linda S. Woolf, the county's lawyer. "Finding a discharger to be in violation of the Clean Water Act when it is, without dispute, in compliance with its permit, is unprecedented."

The county's data showed that the stream temperature exceeded the county-set limit of 68 degrees when measured at the plant and downstream, according to papers filed by the association's lawyer, G. Macy Nelson. The hottest temperature recorded was about 74 degrees, he noted.

"At a bare minimum, we want that plant to be in compliance with the law," said Halle. "The Maryland Department of the Environment should require Carroll County to comply with it. Unfortunately, they have not done that. They've been part of the problem, rather than part of the solution."

Last summer, the state Court of Special Appeals nullified an attempt by Carroll officials to increase the plant's daily flow to 900,000 gallons from the 500,000 gallons the state permit allows. The appeals court blamed the Maryland Department of the Environment for failing to consider water temperature in granting a permit modification for the increase.

In a Baltimore County Circuit Court lawsuit, property owners downstream from the plant are seeking damages for the harm they say storm water has caused.

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