Group awaits waste plan

Ben Oaks residents hope for a bypass of pumping station

`Want to see the details'

Sewage facility's proximity to river cause for concern

November 19, 2001|By Johnathon E. Briggs | Johnathon E. Briggs,SUN STAFF

Residents in the Severna Park neighborhood of Ben Oaks have succeeded in pressuring the county to change plans for a project that would pump millions of gallons of raw sewage through a tiny sewer pumping station just a stone's throw from the Severn River.

But residents remain wary as they wait for the county Department of Public Works to provide details of the alternative plan that would bypass the Ben Oaks station altogether.

Engineers said they intend to meet with the community to discuss the plan by the end of the month.

"Until we see what they're going to do, we just can't let our guard down," said Joe Boyd, who found out about the project in May when a county surveyor went to inspect the Ben Oaks pumping station located slightly more than 30 feet from his side porch.

"But I have confidence that the county will do what it says it will do," Boyd said.

Plans call for the county Department of Public Works to increase the amount of sewage pumped through the Ben Oaks station, a small brick building, as part of an initiative to reduce the number of stations it operates. Scheduled to begin in March, the project would divert sewage from several communities on the Broadneck peninsula, in addition to sewage from Ben Oaks.

The upgrade would occur in conjunction with the construction of the Cayuga Farms Pumping Station, which would pump sewage south to the Ben Oaks station before it is eventually pumped to the Broadneck wastewater treatment plant in Arnold.

The addition of Cayuga Farms would allow the county to close two other stations. The county operates 240.

Under the original plan, the Ben Oaks pumping station eventually would operate near a capacity of 1.2 million average gallons a day once the project is completed. The station now operates at an average daily flow of about 312,000 gallons. It was built to handle a peak flow of up to 3.6 millions gallons of sewage a day, county officials said.

The project is part of the county's 1979 Sewer Master Plan and is expected to be completed by June 2003. The county built the Ben Oaks pumping station in 1980 to provide sanitary sewage facilities to the community, which had problems with its septic systems.

Christopher Phipps, an engineer with the county Department of Public Works who met with residents in September, would not disclose details of the department's alternative plan until engineers meet with the community.

`Right direction'

But Bob vom Saal, co-chairman of the Ben Oaks Pumping Station Committee, said that from what he knows of the plan, the county would bypass the Ben Oaks station and run the sewage directly into the sewer force main under Benfield Boulevard.

"I think we're moving in the right direction," vom Saal said. "We want to stay on top of it. We want to see the details of what they propose. We certainly can't relax."

Not that they have.

Once residents in this quiet community of 151 homes learned of the sewage project in May, they spent hours researching alternatives, enlisted the help of environmentally friendly politicians, worked with neighboring communities, alerted the media and drafted designs for a protest T-shirt.

Concern for the river

"We understand that no community wants sewage in their back yard, but when the back yard is the Severn River, the concern is higher than simply an eyesore, odor or noise," Catherine Thomas, president of Ben Oaks Civic Association, wrote in a letter Sept. 28 to County Executive Janet S. Owens. "A spill runs the risk of affecting every community from the headwaters of the Severn River to the Chesapeake Bay."

When public works officials told Thomas on Nov. 2 that they were considering an alternative plan, she said it took her by surprise.

"I was sure that we would have to go into a very messy battle with them," said Thomas, whose family canoes on the Severn River.

"I live here and I love this river," she said.

Team effort

County Councilwoman Cathleen M. Vitale, whose district includes Severna Park, said that the county's construction schedule should not change under the alternative plan.

Vitale is pleased that county officials and residents worked together toward an apparent resolution.

"It was a great team effort. I look at how we sat down and came together. To me, that's the ideal way to solve a problem," she said.

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