Centreville council fires longtime town manager

Sewage spill occurred at plant he supervised

April 13, 2004|By Chris Guy | Chris Guy,SUN STAFF

CENTREVILLE - The Town Council fired longtime Town Manager Terence E. Adams last night as state environmental agencies continue a probe into a million-gallon sewage spill at an aging wastewater plant.

"In a small town, you have to depend on the professional staff," Councilwoman Donna Turner said earlier yesterday.

In the 2 1/2 -hour meeting last night, the three-member council also imposed an immediate moratorium on new development - growth they believe is overwhelming the 210-year-old crossroads.

Under terms of the emergency ordinance, the town is imposing a 30-day freeze on new building permits, which could be extended monthly until completion of a long-delayed $9 million sewage treatment plant.

The freeze, they said, would delay construction on about 650 homes.

Voting together on the firing and the moratorium were Turner, Councilman Norman Pinder and departing council President Michael Whitehill, who lost his re-election bid last week.

"By making this moratorium effective today as emergency legislation, we'll prevent any land rush from people hurrying in to get permits," said Whitehill, the vice president of a local construction engineering firm, who finishes his term in office Thursday.

Slow-growth advocates in town have criticized Whitehill and others who have presided over a development boom that has pushed the population from about 1,900 to 2,600 in four years - growth that critics said worsened conditions at the 45-year-old waste treatment plant.

Last week, news reports outlined accusations from a former plant operator who released dozens of documents that he says show a decade-long pattern of sewage spills into the Corsica River in the Queen Anne's County seat.

Robert Griffith says he was fired from his job as plant operator after complaining publicly to Town Council members that his boss, Adams, failed for years to report sewage overflows.

Adams, who was also the plant supervisor, has said he never knew of environmental problems until Griffith's letter to the council in January.

Investigators from the Environmental Crimes Unit of the state attorney general's office have interviewed Griffith, Adams and others familiar with the plant's operation.

Last night, Adams was grilled by Town Council members about the plant's operation for more than two hours in closed session.

The plant has operated under a consent agreement signed between the town and the Maryland Department of the Environment in October 2001, limiting operations to 375,000 gallons per day until completion of the new facility.

The construction project, more than two years behind schedule, won't be finished until fall. Griffith and other critics say the new 500,000-gallon- per-day plant will be overburdened by development immediately. Town officials are already looking into expanding the new facility.

Since Griffith was terminated, the plant has been run by a private contractor. An overflow valve that allowed sewage to pour into a nearby creek during frequent pump malfunctions has been capped. State officials say there is no immediate health hazard, despite the cloudy gray color of treated water that is being released into a small creek, the Corsica and Chester rivers and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay.

Technicians from MDE arrived at the plant late last week as town employees worked to remove sludge that has built up in the bottom of tanks and caused the treated water to be discolored.

"We knew it was a troubled plant; that's why there was a consent order," said Richard McIntire, an MDE spokesman. "Our lab tests show everything is within standards."

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