Officials cheered by court victory

Piney Run ruling in county's favor likely to be appealed

Carroll County

October 12, 2001|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

Carroll County's three commissioners were in a celebratory mood yesterday, the day after a federal appeals court reversed a ruling against the county involving the temperature of water released from its Hampstead Wastewater Treatment Plant - and voided the $400,000 fine that went with it.

"It's great. It's great," said a beaming Donald I. Dell, one of the county's three commissioners. "It's been a long time, and it really is a good feeling to have a judge rule in our behalf, after all this controversy. I'm very happy about it."

Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier said: "We were expecting that decision, but it's nice to have that one come to a conclusion. We're happy with the decision."

Last year, Senior U.S. District Judge Joseph H. Young ruled that water discharged from the treatment plant, built in 1975 near Hampstead, was warmer than allowed by its state discharge permit and violated the federal Clean Water Act. He fined the county $400,000, which was stayed during the appeal.

A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., reversed the judge's ruling Wednesday, saying the discharge had been considered by the Maryland Department of the Environment when the permit was issued.

The lawsuit against the county was filed in 1998 by Piney Run Preservation Association, an environmental group across the line in Baltimore County, where the stream's name changes to Western Run.

The group's attorney, G. Macy Nelson, said the newest ruling would be appealed, either asking the 4th Circuit for a review or seeking review by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Development is thicker on the Carroll side of the border, along the busy Route 30 corridor, while the Baltimore County side remains relatively rural.

Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge, a former Hampstead mayor, recalled the building moratoriums that were in effect when she first joined the Town Council in 1979, and said: "I'm really very happy about the decision. It's something we said all along: that the ambient temperature was not part of our permit."

Noting that equipment to chill the water by a few degrees could cost millions of dollars, she said, "This could have affected every treatment plant across the nation.

"Just in nature, there can be several degrees difference from one area to another, from open stream through wooded areas, and from season to season," said Gouge.

State Environment Department inspectors found the stream's brown trout population thriving this summer.

"It is our opinion that the brown trout population in Piney Run is self-sustaining and very healthy ... in spite of a record drought summer of 1999," wrote Charles R. Gougeon, regional fisheries manager for MDE.

"We suspect that a consistent water discharge from the treatment plant may have been key to maintaining ample stream flow during the adverse drought conditions, thereby averting significant [trout] mortalities associated with low flow."

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