State refuses meeting on plant

Department declines to discuss plan for water treatment site

Project's latest roadblock

October 04, 2001|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Even as the county moves forward on a proposed $14 million water treatment plant at Piney Run Lake, the state has refused to review pre-construction plans - a necessary step in the approval process.

In the latest in a series of roadblocks for the project, the Maryland Department of the Environment refused to meet with engineers who wanted to discuss preliminary designs.

"The meeting was declined," said Rich McIntyre, MDE spokesman. "The agency feels it is inappropriate to schedule a meeting. It sends a mixed message for our staff to meet with the designers of the facility, when the larger issues in reference to construction of the plant remain unsettled."

MDE has twice told the county it will not issue a construction permit for the plant, a project state officials say would promote sprawl. MDE also has said the project is inconsistent with the county's water and sewer master plan.

The county has paid about $500,000 to Black and Veatch, a Gaithersburg engineering company, to design the plant. The engineers will request a meeting with MDE when the design is nearly completed, probably in December. The commissioners will review preliminary designs next week.

The commissioners moved forward with the project, approving yesterday a $418,000 contract to widen and rebuild Hollenberry Road, which would provide access to the plant. In addition, they agreed to spend about $50,000 for the purchase of several easements from property owners along the road. The vote was 2-to-1 with Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge dissenting.

"We have no plans back, no OK from the state and we could have a road that goes nowhere," Gouge said.

Commissioners Donald I. Dell and Robin Bartlett Frazier see the plant as a way to augment the water supply for South Carroll, the county's most populous area and one that suffers from seasonal water shortages. They have outvoted Gouge on every issue concerning Piney Run.

Residents also strongly oppose the project. More than 3,000 have signed a petition against the plant and they have taken their complaints to Gov. Parris N. Glendening.

The commissioners have scheduled and postponed two meetings - most recently Sept. 6 - with MDE. They recently hired Roger Titus, a Baltimore attorney, to work with the state on their behalf.

According to the contract awarded yesterday, C.J. Miller of Hampstead also will install a parallel pipeline from the proposed plant to a county water main on Obrecht Road. Construction could begin within a few weeks and could take 110 working days to complete.

"We don't have to sign now," said Gouge. "I would like to see us hold off and not commit the dollars, when we are not sure the plant will be built."

Gouge prefers wells and an expansion of the 30-year-old Freedom plant to new construction. Dell said water needs are so pressing in South Carroll that the county is considering a ban on outdoor use next spring.

"The more we dilly-dally, the longer it will be to meet the needs of the area," said Dell. "We need a long-range solution and wells are not long-range."

In other action yesterday, the commissioners approved a new military leave policy that will afford county employees extra benefits. Beyond the legally required 15 days of paid leave, the county will make up the difference between employees' military and county pay for another 90 days. Employees and their dependents will receive full benefits for up to a year of military leave and be eligible for benefits through COBRA after that.

Employees on military leave are guaranteed an equivalent or better job upon returning to county employment. The county will probably fill vacant positions on a temporary basis, said Carole Hammen, director of human resources. Hammen said she knows of eight county employees who are likely candidates for military leave.

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