Water site moves ahead

Piney Run facility becomes priority in county's blueprint

A three-year timetable

Md. environmental office has opposed project


July 17, 2002|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

The $16 million Piney Run Treatment Plant is a priority in Carroll's water and sewer plan, a move that the state demanded before it would issue a construction permit for the contested project.

The Carroll County Planning and Zoning Commission approved copious pages of revisions to the county plan yesterday, changes that put construction of the Piney Run plant in Sykesville on a three-year timetable and also detailed the county's record on water resources management.

Ed Wheatley, planning commissioner, said the action could pave the way for the plant, which some officials contend is needed to augment South Carroll's water supply. The project faces strong opposition from residents who fear the plant would destroy the lake's recreational value.

"Engineering was never a problem," Wheatley said. "The concept for a reservoir at Piney Run never changed. Now, we have said the plant is consistent with the master plan," the county's blueprint to guide growth.

The Maryland Department of the Environment called the proposed plant inconsistent with the county's master plan a year ago and refused to issue a construction permit. MDE also criticized Carroll's refusal to endorse a longstanding watershed protection agreement with Baltimore City and the surrounding counties.

Edward M. Beard, planning commission chairman, said, "We are trying to get the plant approved but we have no idea of how the state people will act."

Bobbi Moser, a comprehensive planner, told the planning commission yesterday that the staff had labored for months "trying to get things in line to get a permit for the Piney Run plant." The sewer and water plan is included in the county's overall master plan for growth.

MDE strongly suggested the county pursue other options for supplying water to South Carroll, its most populous area and one that suffers seasonal water shortages. South Carroll, home to nearly 30,000 in Eldersburg and Sykesville, has been coping with restrictions on outdoor water use since April.

Commissioners Donald I. Dell and Robin Bartlett Frazier called for a complete overhaul of the plan in February, stressing the need to bring Piney Run on line within the next few years. The county planning staff also rewrote a chapter of the plan, adding details of Carroll's record on water resources management. Although the county still refuses to endorse the protection agreement, the new plan details Carroll's efforts to practice good stewardship of its water resources.

"We have made our best effort to update the plant and make Piney Run a part of it," Moser said. "We have done our best to address what the state said it wanted. If they disapprove, they will have to give us reasons why."

Beard asked Moser: "Does this meet Smart Growth standards?"

Smart Growth directs development to existing areas. According to the Carroll plan, higher-density residential development must be built in areas that have public water and sewer.

The planning commission's recommendation goes to the county commissioners, who have final authority. The board of commissioners will schedule a public hearing this summer or in early fall. Then, the plan will go to the state. MDE has at least 90 days to make its decision and can ask for an extension. Many officials do not expect a decision on the plant until after the November elections.

Dell and Frazier have pushed for the plant for the past two years, spending more than $1 million on land acquisition and road and pipeline construction. They have consistently outvoted Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge, who opposes the plant and favors construction of a series of wells as a short-term solution to the water woes.

Gouge also has urged her commissioner colleagues to negotiate with Baltimore City for more water from the Liberty Reservoir. Carroll can draw as much as 3 million gallons a day from the city's reservoir, water the county treats at its Freedom plant. But Baltimore officials have tied more water to approval of the watershed pact.

Dell and Frazier do not want to expand the Freedom plant. They insist the county needs a second water source for South Carroll and that Piney Run Lake was built more than 30 years ago as a future reservoir.

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