Md. probes allegations at treatment plant

Company running facility in Centreville accused of falsifying records, reports

October 05, 2004|By Chris Guy | Chris Guy,SUN STAFF

CENTREVILLE - State environmental officials are investigating allegations that a company hired to run an ailing sewage treatment plant in this Eastern Shore town falsified records, allegedly backdating reports to cover the fact that no one was working weekends.

The investigation began two weeks ago when the Maryland Department of the Environment received a complaint about Miller Environmental Inc.

The company was brought in last spring to run the plant after revelations that the previous operators had routinely dumped untreated sewage in the Corsica River.

The Corsica River runs into the Chester River, which flows into the Chesapeake Bay.

"We are investigating allegations that records have been falsified at the Centreville wastewater treatment plant," said Jeffrey R. Welsh, a spokesman for the environment department, which has been monitoring the plant since April.

"The allegation is that on at least one weekend, no one came to check the plant," Welsh said. "We met last week with the company and the town, and the investigation remains open."

Jim Hopkins, director of administration for the Cecil County-based company, which runs 60 sewage and water treatment plants in Maryland and Pennsylvania, denied that any daily logs were recorded illegally.

"We've spent a lot of effort trying to get this town out of the trouble, and this is a high-profile job," Hopkins said. "I think it's clearly a case where we've gotten caught in local politics. These are just plain false allegations."

State law does not require that treatment plants be staffed around the clock or even that an attendant visit a plant every day, according to Welsh.

Many small municipal facilities, he said, are monitored by roving technicians who handle more than one plant.

The complaint comes as Centreville's three-member Town Council is completing a management plan designed to ensure that development in the fast-growing Queen Anne's County seat does not outstrip the capacity of a new $9.7 million treatment plant.

State officials ordered an indefinite moratorium on new construction last spring.

The current probe is unrelated to a criminal investigation being conducted by the environmental crimes unit of the Maryland attorney general's office.

That inquiry began after a former plant operator who worked for the town revealed that the 50-year-old plant probably dumped more than a million gallons of raw sewage into the river last year.

He alleged that was part of a decade-long pattern of spills which were never reported to the state.

The worker and a former town manager were fired, and a former town attorney also was let go.

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