Town's sewage problems mount

Development may overtax modern treatment plant to be built in Centreville

Building freeze imposed this week

May 07, 2004|By Chris Guy | Chris Guy,SUN STAFF

CENTREVILLE - Just days after imposing an indefinite moratorium on development that has overloaded an aging sewage plant here, state environmental officials said yesterday that the town's long-delayed, modern replacement will not be able to handle the 700 residential and commercial projects already given preliminary approval.

The new $9.7 million plant would be nearly 30 percent above its designed capacity of 500,000 gallons per day if all the projects get building permits and are completed, say investigators from the Maryland Department of the Environment. And once the new plant reaches capacity, they say the Queen Anne's town will have to shut down further development again.

"Obviously, they would be over capacity and that is something the town will have to deal with," said James Dieter, who heads MDE's wastewater permit office. "Under the agreement we have, they'll have to develop a management plan to show how to handle this growth. Once they reach that 500,000-gallon plateau, they'll be looking at shutting down building permits again. They'll have a lot of tough choices."

The state has been probing reports of sewage leaks and other pollution problems at the 45-year-old facility now in operation.

Critics have assailed town officials for allowing development that has boosted the town's population from 1,970 to about 2,600 since the 2000 Census. Last month, the Town Council fired its town manager and the operator of the ailing sewage plant, Robert Griffith, after Griffith complained publicly about environmental violations.

Town officials now concede that the existing plant, built in 1959, has frequently exceeded its capacity of 375,000 gallons a day, logging an average of 385,000 gallons last month, a total that does not yet include sewage that could be generated from another 75 houses and businesses that had been granted building permits before MDE imposed its moratorium Monday.

Town Council President Norman Pinder Jr. says the town is considering an expansion of the new plant to 750,000 gallons, a process that could take years. Meanwhile, Pinder said, the town might attempt to work out some sort of allotment system to dole out remaining sewer capacity, forcing developers to scale back their plans, when the new plant opens.

"One thing's for sure - we aren't going to run it up to the full 500,000 gallons and take a chance of going over the limit," said Pinder. "We've got to apply for an expansion to 750,000 gallons real soon. In the short-term, we might have to go with some kind of percentage system for the major developments. We have to work all that out."

Developers say they have taken the moratorium in stride, waiting to hear more details from the Town Council.

Bob Karen, who is developing Symphony Village, a 395-home, age-restricted community on the southern end of Centreville, says he isn't sure how the state's moratorium will affect construction or whether there will be long-term issues. Under a public works agreement he signed with the town, Karen says he is due service for 295 units when the new treatment plant opens.

"I don't think anybody fully understands the magnitude of all this yet," Karen said. "If there's a shortfall of available sewer hookups, I'd hope we could work with the town. We're going to wait and see."

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