Fees continue to climb in water plant battle

`Hefty' legal bill prompts officials to call for an update

October 24, 2001|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Add $11,195 to the more than $1 million Carroll County commissioners have spent trying to build a second water treatment plant in South Carroll.

The latest expense represents legal fees paid to Roger W. Titus, an attorney hired to help the county obtain a construction permit for its proposed $14 million plant at Piney Run Lake in Sykesville.

"This is a hefty bill," said Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge, who has consistently opposed the project and voted against every expense related to it. "We should discuss whether or not we want to continue. We haven't heard anything from Mr. Titus in a month.

"We are still running up dollars," she said. "Maybe we need to call a halt."

Commissioners Robin Bartlett Frazier and Donald I. Dell said they, too, were surprised at the climbing legal fees. They called for an update on Titus' progress. Neither would comment further.

"This is a legal matter and we should not discuss it," Dell said.

The board hired Titus late last summer in an effort to break the impasse it faced with the Maryland Department of the Environment. The department twice has told the county it will not issue a construction permit for a treatment 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 twice has scheduled and then postponed meetings with MDE and has left the negotiations to Titus, a partner in charge of the Montgomery County office of the Venable, Baetjer and Howard firm. He is known for his expertise in land-use and zoning law.

Despite the state's stance and rising opposition from South Carroll residents, Dell and Frazier have moved forward with the project, approving a $418,000 contract last month to widen and pave Hollenberry Road, which would provide access to the plant. They also spent about $50,000 for the purchase of several easements from property owners along the road.

The county has paid about $500,000 to Black and Veatch, a Gaithersburg engineering company that is designing the plant. Its contract makes the company responsible for securing a construction permit. MDE recently refused to meet with the engineers who wanted to discuss preliminary designs for the plant.

Frazier and Dell see the plant as a way to augment the water supply for South Carroll, the county's most populous area and one that has suffered water shortages in three of the past four summers.

Gouge has pushed for an expansion of the county's plant on Liberty Reservoir and a series of wells, a position that reflects the wishes of many area residents. Many believe using Piney Run Lake as a water supply will ruin the popular recreation area.

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