In its continued efforts to get the sewage treatment plant at Francis Scott Key High School operating, the county held a state-required public hearing on the troubled facility last night.
About a dozen people attended the hearing on a proposed amendment to the county's water and sewerage master plan, which would outline Carroll's plans to treat sewage generated by the high school. Those plans call for use of the $786,000 wastewater treatment plant - built in 1998 without the required construction and environmental permits - and the discharge of treated effluent into a wetland on an adjoining property.
"We're trying to get this amendment through as quickly as possible," said Bobbi Moser, a comprehensive planner for the county. "We don't want to hold up the discharge permit a day longer than we have to."
School and county officials have been scrambling for two years to find a place to release treated effluent from the school plant, which was completed in July 1998. The school system pays $5,600 a month to haul raw sewage from the school to the wastewater treatment plant at Runnymede Elementary near Taneytown.
After the school system built the facility without necessary permits, the school system was faced with lawsuits and became the subject of investigations, and the project was taken over by the county.
In February, state officials told the county commissioners that they must detail treatment plans for the school's sewage before a discharge permit is issued by the Maryland Department of the Environment. On Aug. 9, the county's Planning and Zoning Commission certified that the proposed amendment to the water and sewerage plan is "consistent with the county's master plan."
State officials issued a draft of a permit the county needs to move forward with the long-delayed and mismanaged wastewater treatment project, but a number of other steps - including additional public hearings and likely appeals - must be completed before the required permits are issued.
At Francis Scott Key last night, residents questioned the legality of changing the county's water and sewerage master plan. They also expressed concern about water quality, urging the commissioners to be sure that the released effluent would not contaminate streams, ponds or groundwater.
A majority of the school's neighbors rely on private wells, which draw from groundwater, and many farmers use area ponds and streams to provide water for their livestock.
Last year, local officials presented the state with 20 options for dealing with the waste, including construction of a pipeline to pump sewage from the school to Union Bridge and a plan to discharge treated effluent into a nearby stream.
The list was whittled to a single option last month, after an overwhelming majority of Bark Hill Road residents - 32 of 36 who returned questionnaires - said they would refuse to allow the county to bury a pipeline across their properties to carry sewage to Union Bridge.
It was not clear yesterday when the commissioners would take action on the proposed amendment. No time limit has been set for a decision. The public record for last night's hearing will remain open for 10 days. Residents can officially comment on the proposed amendment during that time.