Town fires outside firm hired to run sewage plant

Quasi-state agency to take over Centreville site

October 16, 2004|By Chris Guy | Chris Guy,SUN STAFF

CENTREVILLE - Six months after hiring an outside firm to clean up the sewage treatment plant in this Eastern Shore town, local officials fired the company yesterday.

Ousted by the three-member Town Council was Miller Environmental Inc., the contractor brought in last spring amid allegations that town employees had for years dumped untreated sewage into Chesapeake Bay tributaries.

Beginning today, Maryland Environmental Service, an independent, quasi-state agency that operates 175 other water and wastewater plants, will take over Centreville's 45-year-old treatment facility. It will oversee the start-up of a new $97 million treatment system, officials say.

"We felt we had to go in different direction," said Norman P. Pinder Jr., the council president. "We're relieved to get to this point."

Contract terminated

State environmental officials said last week that the Maryland Department of the Environment has been investigating allegations that Miller falsified records to cover up the fact that no one was on duty at the Centreville plant on weekends.

The agency also is continuing to look into an Aug. 28 spill and an incident last weekend when treated sewage overflowed because of an electrical failure.

Town Council members have been negotiating for about three weeks to terminate the town's contract with Miller. Maryland Environmental Service submitted one of two bids reviewed by the council late yesterday.

Miller President George Smith denied that his company had given the town any reason to break a contract that was scheduled to run until April. The dispute, he said, will likely end up in court.

"There is just no basis for this," Smith said. "We intend to show up [today] to do our job unless they ask us to leave the property."

Emergency directive

Earlier yesterday, Maryland Environment Secretary Kendl P. Philbrick had signed an emergency directive that would have provided for temporary operation of the plant had the council not acted to hire a new operator. The order, Philbrick said, was meant as a safety net to guarantee that the town would not be left without an operator, even for a short time.

"We had to assure that continuity of operation. We had to be sure the citizens and the environment were not affected during the transition," he said.

State involvement

This week, Town Council members submitted a management plan to Philbrick's office, an outline designed to ensure that development in the fast-growing Queen Anne's County seat will not exceed the capacity of the new waste treatment plant.

In addition to the investigations of possible spills by Philbrick's agency, the environmental crimes unit of the Maryland attorney general's office has been conducting a criminal investigation since January into allegations about pollution that poured from the Centreville plant into the Corsica River, a tributary of the bay.

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