The Carroll County commissioners voted yesterday to spend $418,000 to install a pipeline and build a road in Sykesville, forging ahead again with plans to tap Piney Run Reservoir as a water supply despite the state's refusal to issue a construction permit for a proposed $14 million treatment plant.
The vote, which brings the amount the county has spent this year on the Piney Run project to more than $1 million, occurred the day after the Sykesville Town Council's contentious meeting with Carroll Commissioner Donald I. Dell over an easement, or the right to use land, that the county needs for the pipeline - land the county contends it is entitled to use.
The Sykesville council does not want to grant the easement because it doesn't support the Piney Run project. Members of the council voted Monday night to defer action on the easement until the Maryland Department of Environment issues a permit.
The council, irked by the way Dell acted during the meeting, also voted Monday night to ask the Maryland attorney general's office whether it can seek an injunction against the county that would prevent work on the pipeline and roads.
"The county is moving ahead without a permit and looking like fools," Sykesville Mayor Jonathan S. Herman said yesterday. "We are trying to be the voice of reason. The best compromise was to defer action, but all the council needed was antagonism. If Dell hadn't threatened us, this would have gone away."
Sensing the Sykesville council's opposition during a presentation by Douglas E. Myers, Carroll's public works director, Dell handed Sykesville council members copies of part of Carroll's code stating that the county may excavate any road within its water service area for the purpose of installing a water system.
"We can come in without asking you, but we are trying to be cooperative," said Dell. "We have an obligation to serve the community and the authority to come here."
Some on the council saw that as an insult. They also bristled when Dell linked a redevelopment project with the council's Piney Run stance.
Dell said he was disappointed in the council, particularly because the county this month finalized a $300,000 grant to help Sykesville renovate the Warfield Complex, a former state property, into a business and academic center.
"Why are you tying Warfield to the plant?" asked Councilman Michael Burgoyne, who called for an injunction barring the county from town property. "Why are you trying to blackmail the town?"
"Whoa!" replied Dell. The grant is not in jeopardy, he said yesterday.
"I don't want to make deals that way," Dell said. "Warfield is an important project for everybody."
"This was really poor form, shoving it in our faces," Sykesville Councilwoman Jeannie Nichols said yesterday. "He treated us like second-class citizens, basically telling us to shut up, sit down and pay for this. As elected officials we have a sacred duty to listen to our constituents, and our constituents don't want this plant."
Many South Carroll residents oppose the water treatment plant because they fear it would harm the reservoir and surrounding Piney Run Park, Carroll's most popular recreation area.
Sykesville, which owns the 120 feet of Obrecht Road where the pipeline would go, is the only holdout among 10 property owners asked to grant easements on Obrecht and Hollenberry roads.
Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge also opposes the project and voted against the expenditure yesterday.
"The work could begin any time," Gouge said yesterday. "We have committed more money to a project that might not move forward. It makes no sense and this will only incite people more."
Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier, who has voted with Dell to continue spending county funds on the plant, said the Sykesville council is "welcome to do whatever is in the best interest of their citizens. I think Piney Run is in the best interest of their citizens."
Dell said, "In my mind, we have the authority to go in and do this work. We have an obligation to serve the public and here we have the town standing in the way of a pipeline."
But Nichols said, "We acted like elected officials should and stated objective opinions. You can't muck about with people's rights. Sykesville may be the last bastion against this plant. We are wielding a sword with what little leverage that we have."
Some town officials said they would go so far as to fence off the pipeline area, post "No trespassing" signs and station town police there to keep the county's contractor from working.
The disagreement might not get that far. Jane Nishida, secretary of the MDE, has written to the county twice in the past month saying the state would not issue a construction permit for the plant. Nishida will meet with the commissioners Sept. 6 in an effort to resolve the impasse. Richard Israel, a lawyer with the state attorney general's office, said towns frequently have sued counties. Annapolis recently sued Anne Arundel over tobacco revenues.
"Whether a suit is successful depends on facts, circumstances and applicable law," said Israel. "The AG gives advice and we are glad to talk to towns. But the courts issue the definitive ruling." The Piney Run issue stems from an inadequate water supply for South Carroll, the county's most populous area, which has had shortages three of the past four summers and is under a voluntary conservation effort.
Dell and Frazier have pushed for the plant as the solution to persistent water shortages that have vexed Eldersburg and Sykesville, home to nearly 30,000 residents. The two contend the state's opposition is political and the result of their lack of support for Gov. Parris N. Glendening's Smart Growth program. The state says it denied the permit because the proposed plant does not comply with Carroll's water and sewer master plan.