Hearing to address revised water plan

Officials hope changes will win state permit for Piney Run plant

Carroll County

February 10, 2002|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Carroll residents will get a chance tomorrow night to express their opinions about changes the county wants to make to its master water and sewer plan, a hearing that promises to be a hotly debated step in the county commissioners' efforts to win state approval for a treatment plant on Piney Run Lake.

The county's planning department has prepared 62 pages of additions to and deletions from the plan, hoping to appease the state and win a construction permit for the proposed $15 million plant.

Many South Carroll residents oppose the plant, contending that it would harm the Sykesville-area lake, one of Carroll's most popular recreation spots. Some also insist that other water sources, such as wells, should be tapped first.

The hearing will be held at 7 p.m. at the Sykesville Freedom Fire Co. on Route 32.

"We are addressing the issues that the state has that are preventing [the state Department of the Environment] from reviewing our design," Barbara C. Moser, a county planner, said at last week's workshop on the revised document, which is a blueprint for how the county plans to meet its water and sewerage needs.

"This amendment is narrow and it has to do with Piney Run. We have a narrow charge of what we needed to plan to get the state to work with us on Piney Run," Moser said.

Many residents who attended the workshop posed questions that the planning department staff repeatedly said should be asked of the commissioners. Several asked why wells have not been built even though they are included in the plan.

"We need a water fix now, not a Taj Mahal plant," said Gerald J. Ryan of Westminster.

Commissioners Donald I. Dell and Robin Bartlett Frazier decided not to pursue wells and opted to push for the Piney Run plant. They have consistently outvoted Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge, who has said that a series of wells is an ideal solution to the persistent summertime water shortages that afflict South Carroll, the county's most populous area.

Douglas E. Myers, the county public works director, has said water shortages in South Carroll are likely again in the summer. Water restrictions have been imposed in South Carroll for three of the past four summers.

The region relies on a treatment plant at Liberty Reservoir for its water supply, but the 30-year- old facility cannot meet peak de- mand during prolonged hot, dry spells. Even if the Piney Run plant wins state approval this year, it would not begin operation for at least two years, county officials have said.

"I don't want to have restrictions for the next 20 years," said Jeannie M. Nichols, a member of Sykesville's Town Council. "The county is building houses that are already beyond its capacity to provide water."

She quoted a sentence from the revised plan: "To provide additional water supply in the short term, the county is pursuing the development of ground water supplies in the [South Carroll] area."

"This is simply not true," said Nichols. "There are no plans now to bring wells on line."

Residents also will call for stronger watershed protections than those included in the amendments - measures such as stream buffers to safeguard the water supply.

"I am not convinced that the commissioners have their heart in these protections," said Carol Brown of Eldersburg. "I don't think we are fulfilling our obligations to the rest of the region. We should not be changing this document to circumvent those protections."

The county has forwarded a draft of the amendments to the state's Department of the Environment. The state also has received plans for the plant.

"Once we sign off on the changes to the plan, then we will look at the design," said Richard J. McIntire, MDE spokesman. "But right now, we are still at square one. We don't comment on drafts."

Once the approved amendments are submitted, the MDE has at least 90 days to respond. During that interval, other state agencies have the opportunity to review the document.

"We gather all the comments and then approve, deny or send it back to the county with recommendations," said McIntire. "We won't begin to look at designs for the plant until we are satisfied with the changes to the water sewer master plan."

The county planning commission signed off on the water plan amendments and recommended that the commissioners accept them. One planning commissioner said that recommendation was a formality and that "when MDE gets it, they will pick it apart."

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