Plan to build water plant opposed

Criticism meets strategy to ease shortages, pay for treatment system

April 06, 2001|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

South Carroll residents used a public hearing with the county commissioners to air complaints about an overburdened water system, leaking pipes and a costly treatment plant to be built at a favorite recreation spot.

For more than two hours, the commissioners faced a barrage of questions and strident criticism of their plans to alleviate persistent water shortages in South Carroll, the county's most populous area. The public hearing Wednesday was supposed to focus on proposed increases in utility connection fees and a new maintenance fee.

So many residents oppose construction of a $14 million treatment plant at Piney Run Reservoir that those attending the hearing ended the evening with a call for a referendum on the issue. Without approval from the General Assembly, the county cannot set a vote.

"The majority of people who live here don't understand why you are bucking us on this plant that we don't want," said Ellen Dix of Circle Drive.

Commissioners Donald I. Dell and Robin Bartlett Frazier voted nine months ago to move ahead with the Piney Run plant. Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge, who favors expanding the county's 30-year-old plant on Liberty Reservoir, dissented.

Although the Eldersburg audience overwhelmingly opposed the new plant, Dell was not swayed.

"We have about 30 people here tonight out of about 30,000 who live here," Dell said.

Dix countered, "Just because you only see 30 people at 9:30 at night does not mean the rest of Eldersburg is with you."

Residents are concerned about paying for the new plant and with its possible impact on Piney Run, a 2-billion-gallon reservoir surrounded by parkland.

County Comptroller Gene Curfman stressed repeatedly that water connection fees - $4,725 on each new home - would pay as much as two-thirds of the plant construction cost. Current residents will pay the remaining one-third of the project and for improvements to the existing system through a phased-in maintenance fee assessed at $1.83 per road front footage.

The first payments begin July 1 and continue for 10 years. Residents will pay the maintenance fee with their annual property tax bill. Most recently ended years of payments for the Freedom treatment plant.

"We have already paid for one complete system," said Nimrod Davis of Monroe Avenue. "If you hadn't built so many houses in South Carroll, we would have enough water."

The population of South Carroll grew by 46 percent in the 1990s and is nearly 30,000. Residents have experienced water shortages and bans on outdoor use three of the past four summers.

"We were told as more people came onto the water system our rates would go down," said Carolyn Fairbank of Eldersburg. "At this rate of growth, our water should be free."

Fairbank's quarterly water bill has gone from $15 to more than $100 in the past 25 years.

Several South Carroll residents, including Davis and Fairbank, have recently dealt with pinhole leaks in their copper water pipes. Many blame the county's water treatment process and are asking for reimbursement of costs. The county is surveying residents to determine the scope of the pipe problem.

"It makes sense to hold off on increases, until these issues are resolved," Fairbank said.

The commissioners will keep the record open until May 1.

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