An honorable discharge

Carroll County: Finally, state permit could end embarrassment of Key High sewage plant blunder.

January 09, 2001

TWO YEARS of continuing insult to county taxpayers from past school system incompetence mercifully seems close to an end.

The state is issuing a draft discharge permit for the idle sewage treatment plant at Francis Scott Key High School near Union Bridge. After a public hearing and a final permit, the county can proceed with treating and releasing wastewater from the school into 5 acres of wetlands.

The $800,000 treatment plant was finished in July 1998 without required environmental and construction permits. Since then, the school system has paid $5,600 a month to truck the waste to a plant at Runnymede Elementary School, while the illegal Key facility sat unused.

The school system paid a $10,000 fine to the state for the violations, which resulted from a combination of arrogance and nonchalance by school officials. The school board also agreed to pay to pay neighbors $250,000 for the discharge marshland, after its initial high-handed treatment of those property owners.

Fortunately for taxpayers, the county took over the project from the school board and promptly crafted a workable solution. The wetlands plan will also cost less than dumping treated effluent into a nearby stream, the original idea.

This ongoing embarrassment may not be the most costly of recent school construction gaffes in Carroll County. Remedial steps taken over the past year or so have apparently increased accountability and professionalism in school construction management.

But the Key sewage plant episode should serve as a red-letter warning to administrators, employees and school board members about the need for constant attention to detail and the law.

And the next time anyone in school construction talks about going with the flow, he had better have the proper permits.

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