Commissioners give up sewage plant at school

Alternative pipeline to Union Bridge proposed

Carroll County

March 12, 2004|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

After six years of contention, lawsuits and opposition from the state and area residents, the Carroll County commissioners voted yesterday to abandon an innovative - but never used - $800,000 sewage treatment plant at Francis Scott Key High School near Union Bridge without so much as a comment.

The county will try to salvage equipment from the school plant and begin work immediately on an alternative. That alternative will entail laying pipe on a four-mile route from the school to a plant in Union Bridge. The cost is estimated at about $2 million.

"Let's do it and proceed as soon as possible with the public process," said Commissioner Perry L. Jones Jr.

The county will schedule a public hearing for residents along the proposed pipeline route down Bark Hill Road to Hoff Road to Route 75.

"The sewer line will be just for the school," said Douglas E. Myers, the county's director of public works. "No one else will be allowed to hook in."

Myers' staff completed a feasibility study that resulted in three options for a sewer line and presented three possible routes to the commissioners yesterday. Myers stressed that his staff had determined the option the commissioners chose was the most practical and economical, particularly because the county owns the rights of way.

"The cheapest way is to pump raw sewage to Union Bridge," Myers said. "We have the rights of way that are ample to put the main in. And it is all downhill."

Operating costs would be about $51,000 annually, he said. Union Bridge, which has agreed to the project, will require a $67,735 hookup fee. The town will charge the county a quarterly fee of about $2,000.

The county must amend its water and sewer master plan to include the line and apply for construction permits from the Maryland Department of the Environment. Officials can put the engineering and design phase of the project out to bid while it is seeking permits, Myers said.

"It has been more than five years, fighting lawsuits and then having MDE rule against us," Myers said. "We should cut our losses, throw in the towel and move on. Several of our plants are similar in nature to this one. Maybe we could reuse parts."

The county Board of Education built the treatment plant in 1997 as part of a $16.3 million renovation to the high school, which is about 10 miles west of Westminster. But officials never obtained a construction permit from the state Department of the Environment, a necessary step in the process.

The county then took over the project from school officials and proceeded with a treatment plan. It called for allowing treated sewage, known as effluent, to flow from the plant into two pools planted with vegetation on school property. The effluent would have eventually seeped into the wetlands bordering a tributary of Wolf Pit Branch.

When neighbors of the school learned of the plan in 1999, they filed a lawsuit, saying the process would devalue their property and fill the air with noxious odors. They called for dismantling the plant.

Virginia Lovell, whose cattle farm adjoins the school property, lauded the decision yesterday.

"I am relieved," she said. "This option is what we have advocated all along."

In the meantime, the county has had to haul about 6,000 gallons of sewage daily from the school, which has 1,150 students, to the Westminster treatment plant. The cost is about $330 a day. Until the pipeline is completed - at least a year from now - the county will continue hauling the sewage.

"Hauling was never a viable solution, and that is according to state law," Myers said. "It is only a temporary solution."

The high school plant, which has never processed sewage, has fallen into such disrepair that it is inoperable and would require hundreds of thousands to dollars to fix, officials said. But Myers said he might be able to salvage some equipment.

"We have a small community that may need a sewer plant and we have many plants with similar equipment," he said. "We can look at all this equipment and see what we can use."

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