Carroll officials are one step closer to receiving a state discharge permit the county needs to operate the idle wastewater treatment plant at Francis Scott Key High School on the outskirts of Union Bridge.
The Maryland Department of the Environment held a public hearing in the high school's auditorium last night to give concerned residents a chance to comment before state officials make a final decision. About a dozen people attended the meeting.
If approved, the discharge permit would allow the county to release treated sewage from the plant - a $768,000 facility the school system built in 1998 without obtaining required state permits - into nearby wetlands, said Doug Myers, county public works director.
At last night's hearing, residents expressed concern about water quality, urging the state to be sure that the released effluent would not contaminate streams, ponds or ground water.
"Our tax dollars are being wasted by our government. They're going to make a mess," said Arthur Carr, an adjoining property owner. "Your grandchildren, my grandchildren, are going to have to clean it up."
A majority of the school's neighbors rely on private wells, which draw from ground water, and many farmers use area ponds and streams to provide water for their livestock.
Carroll officials hope to have the discharge permit in the fall so that design work can begin on the long-delayed and mismanaged wastewater treatment project. It is expected to take about a year for the discharge system to be constructed, Myers said.
The timetable will depend, in large part, on how quickly state officials approve design plans for the facility and issue needed construction permits, Myers said. A number of steps, including additional public hearings and likely appeals, must be completed before the required permits are issued.
School and county officials have been searching for nearly three years for a permanent place to release treated wastewater from the school plant, which was built illegally without required construction and environmental permits, prompting lawsuits, investigations and a $10,000 fine by the state.
The plant has sat idle since its completion in July 1998. It is now a holding tank as the school system pays Freedom Septic Service Inc., a private company, to haul raw sewage from Francis Scott Key High to the treatment plant at Runneymede Elementary.
It was not clear yesterday when the state would make a final decision on the discharge permit. The public record for last night's hearing will remain open until Thursday. Residents can submit written comments up to that date to: Maryland Department of the Environment, Water Management Administration, 2500 Broening Highway, Baltimore 21224. Attn: Stephen Luckman.