Panel to get update on Deer Creek plan

Aberdeen needs approval to draw water from river

November 30, 2003|By Lane Harvey Brown | Lane Harvey Brown,SUN STAFF

When a regional water-use review panel meets next month in Cecil County, the group is to receive a progress update on Aberdeen's request to draw water from Deer Creek, a scenic river flowing through northern Harford County.

The Susquehanna River Basin Commission is a multistate agency that approves water uses affecting the river, which runs from New York through Pennsylvania and Maryland, and it must give final approval to any permit for withdrawing water from the river or its tributaries.

The city is also asking the panel for an extension in spelling out a key element of the permit - where Aberdeen will get backup water when Deer Creek, which has a history of low flows, cannot be tapped.

The commission said last year the city had until Dec. 31 of this year to outline its emergency water plans, but prickly negotiations between the city and county have bogged down the process.

The talks became so acrimonious this year that Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. sent in a staff member to mediate. Officials are to meet again in the next week or two to try once more to work out a deal, said Aberdeen City Manager Peter Dacey.

The city is considering the long-term solution of building a reservoir for its backup supply, Dacey said, but declined to elaborate. Engineering firm Gannett Fleming, the city's consultant, is still preparing its final recommendations, he said, and it is premature to outline specifics.

Dacey also said last week that officials from the Maryland Department of the Environment have said the city's permit application is in good order and that the agency is ready to process it and have an answer in a month or two.

"I think we've done our job and demonstrated our case, and it's out of our control right now," Dacey said.

MDE spokesman Richard McIntire disputed Dacey's assessment. Without the backup water agreement, McIntire said, "We really still don't consider it a complete application."

He said once the emergency water supply is worked out, then MDE will likely need "a few more months to do a final review."

Susan Obleski, spokeswoman for the river basin commission, said before the panel votes on the permit, MDE has to determine whether it will approve the request. "MDE will be considering conditions that will be placed on the permit if it is approved," she said.

Obleski declined to comment further, noting the sensitivity of the negotiations.

Getting permission to use Deer Creek water is critical for the city, leaders say, in part because several development opportunities have been on hold during discussions over whether the city should have the right to take up to 6 million gallons of water a day from the river.

Primary among those projects is the county's first continuing care community, which Presbyterian Home of Maryland proposes to build on a 135-acre site on Aldino-Stepney Road near Ripken Stadium. The group has said that if an agreement on the permit has not been reached by Dec. 31, it will have to look for another location for the project.

But a group of landowners and farmers who live around Deer Creek have raised stiff opposition to the proposal, saying it could imperil agriculture along the river in future years and that no regulatory agency has done sufficient research to allay those concerns.

Monroe Duke, with the Deer Creek Watershed Association, said that last year the river basin commission said it saw several outstanding issues with the permit application: an analysis of the city's well field; a comparison of all possible water sources for the city and an economic analysis of using Deer Creek water vs. county-supplied water; and an agreement on backup water use.

To date, he said, none of those issues has been thoroughly investigated. "This ought to be addressed before anybody comes to the table ... and talks about issuing a permit," he said.

The Susquehanna River Basin Commission meeting begins at 8:30 a.m. Dec. 11 at Cecil County Community College, 1 Seahawk Drive in North East. Information: 717-238- 0423, Ext. 316.

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