Piney Run water project appears dead

Supporters Dell, Frazier defeated in primary

`Litmus test for the candidates'

$16 million facility seen as invitation to growth

Carroll County

September 15, 2002|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

The proposal for a $16 million Piney Run water treatment plant in Sykesville, which for two years has pitted the state and many Carroll residents against the county, is set to meet the same fate as the two deposed commissioners who championed it, county officials and opponents of the project say.

Commissioners Donald I. Dell and Robin Bartlett Frazier, who have relentlessly pushed the project, both lost re-election bids in Tuesday's primary.

None of the three Democrats and three Republicans nominated favors the immediate building of the plant.

And Republican Susan W. Krebs and Democrat Kenneth Holniker, who will face each other in a race for state delegate representing South Carroll, also oppose the project.

"Piney Run was a litmus test for the commissioner candidates," said Ross Dangel, chairman of the Freedom Area Citizens Council, a group that marshaled opposition to the project.

"It was an ill-executed plan from the start and now it is all over but the shouting. There is not a single word of support for it," he said.

Over the objections of Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge, Dell and Frazier approved more than $2 million in plant-related expenses, including a road to the site at the southern end of the lake.

Gouge won re-election, coming in second in a field of 10 Republican candidates. Frazier finished sixth and Dell was seventh.

"In spite of how important the plant is to the future of South Carroll's water supply, it probably won't be built now," Dell said. "This is serious business. They need water in that area."

Dangel said: "Of course we know we need water. We want to pursue the most reasonable and expedient sources, not a $16 million mistake."

The Responsible Republicans of Carroll County, a group which was organized in the last weeks of the primary campaign, printed a flier contrasting photographs of a pristine Piney Run Lake, the county's favorite recreation spot, with a shot of a lake so depleted that it resembles a stream.

Organizers mailed the fliers to thousands of registered Republicans, stressing that a ticket with Gouge, Dean L. Minnich and Perry L. Jones Jr. would save the lake.

"The flier got to people," Dangel said. "How else would Jones have done so well? He was not well-known, and he didn't spend a lot on his campaign."

Dell and Frazier saw the plant as the solution to the persistent water shortages in South Carroll, the county's most populated area.

But they faced intense opposition from the state and from residents who feared more water would mean many more homes in an area coping with crowded schools and congested roads.

"If the county draws 2.5 million gallons a day from Piney Run, it could theoretically allow 7,000 more homes to be built," said Democratic candidate Jeannie Nichols.

Minnich, who won the most votes in the primary, said he is not ruling out the project in the future, but added, "I am opposed to taking water out of the lake unless I am reassured that it is not for future growth, but only for the needs in the area now."

The plant was never intended to serve new development, but rather to handle spikes in demand for water and to provide for future industry, Frazier said. But, she was unable to convince voters of that.

Frazier warned that the county's permit to draw water from the lake will expire within the next few years, and said, "I am not sure the state will renew it."

While the state gave Carroll a permit to draw water from the lake several years ago, it has not issued a construction permit for the plant.

The Maryland Department of the Environment has said the project is inconsistent with the county's master plan for growth and has urged Carroll to consider other options.

County planners scrambled to rewrite the water master plan and make the Piney Run plant a priority.

The commissioners held a public hearing last month that drew many opponents, but the board has not voted on the document.

After a preliminary review of the water plan, the Maryland Department of Planning said the county had not made its case for the plant and should not rely on outdated information, some of which is 20 years old, in making projections for its water needs.

James T. Noonan, state director of local planning assistance, called watershed protection measures in the plan inadequate.

"The plan does not present data that documents that building the plant is the most cost-effective alternative to provide water that will result in the lowest costs for users in the area," Noonan wrote in an Aug. 29 letter to the commissioners.

Gouge has long favored building a series of wells, but her two colleagues consistently thwarted those efforts. Jones, the third Republican nominee, said, "We better get those wells on line to ease the water crisis we have now."

South Carroll now relies on water drawn from Baltimore-owned Liberty Reservoir and then treated at the Freedom plant. Gouge would also expand that plant's capacity, but cannot do so without negotiating with the city.

Baltimore officials have demanded that the county endorse a longstanding watershed protection agreement before they will discuss allowing Carroll to draw more water from Liberty Reservoir.

Frazier and Dell have refused to sign that document.

The road and pipeline for the new plant are completed and the state has the designs under review, said Doug Myers, county director of public works. He is well aware of all the opposition to the plant and also of the water shortages that won't go away anytime soon.

"Everybody knows we need water," Myers said. "If we don't build this plant, where are we going to get it?"

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