The city has set an end-of-the-month deadline for selecting the site of a sewage pumping station along Stony Run in North Baltimore - a timetable that could escalate a months-long dispute in the Wyman Park area.
Gary Wyatt, chief utility engineer at the Department of Public Works, said the city has to choose among five proposed sites in the next five weeks so the project, part of a network of federally mandated improvements, can be designed and put up for bid by the end of next year.
But community leaders, who are opposed to putting a pumping station at any of the five sites, say there is no need to rush to judgment.
"The community needs an extension of an unrealistic deadline," said Mary Pat Clarke, a resident of Tuscany-Canterbury and Democratic nominee for the City Council's new 14th District. "We have not had a chance to study what the other options are."
The city and community leaders have been at odds over the issue since late April, when officials presented the choices for sites from University Parkway to south of Remington Avenue at a meeting attended by about 100 residents.
The pumping station and environs would occupy 10,000 square feet, and some of the proposed locations would also require construction of access roads.
Officials did not have a price for the Stony Run pumping station. They said it would be part of $800 million in improvements throughout the city over the next 12 years to reduce sewage overflows. The improvements are part of efforts to comply with a 2002 consent decree negotiated with the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
City officials say the pumping station will not create odor or noise, and will be in operation only during storms.
Despite these safeguards, residents vehemently oppose any site along Stony Run for a pumping station.
A key concern is taking parkland for the pumping station.
"It is a very fine park that has been eaten away by development over the years, despite our best efforts," Clarke said. "We cannot tolerate any more incursion."
Residents of surrounding neighborhoods - which include Wyman Park, Hampden, Remington and Roland Park, as well as Tuscany-Canterbury - say they are concerned the pumping station will hurt the value of their homes and quality of life. They worry that the noise and odors coming from the station will keep them from sitting on their porches or sleeping .
Patrick O'Brien, who owns a home on Gilman Terrace within 200 feet of one of the proposed sites, has asked his neighbors to write city officials asking them to reconsider the pumping station.
"I would like to see a Miracle on 34th Street kind of thing, where bags of letters are dropped onto the mayor's desk, and they just can't not respond to it," O'Brien said.
Dennis Byrne, who lives on 33rd Street near the park, said, residents were not "anti-development or anti-anything."
"I think we are pro-the park, pro-green space and pro-city. We love the city, and we love our neighborhood," he said.
Community leaders want to see alternative remedies such as lining the pipes and making them impermeable to water.
But Guy Hollyday - a resident and the chairman of the Baltimore Sanitary Sewer Oversight Coalition, a volunteer group that monitors streams for sewage spills - said that while alternatives to the pumping station are conceivable, they would be costly and take many years to complete.
Wyatt, the chief utility engineer, said an alternative that doesn't include a pumping station is out of the question. He said many of the network of projects are under way and some are completed.
"If you did away with this project, all the other projects would change, too," he said.