Plant to install system to cool its wastewater

Discharge into Piney Run warmer than Md. permits

`We are backed into a corner'

$2 million project passes amid doubts of necessity


October 27, 2004|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Out of options and facing stiff fines from the Maryland Department of the Environment, the Carroll County commissioners voted yesterday to spend nearly $2 million on equipment that will slightly lower the temperature of treated discharge from the Hampstead wastewater treatment plant.

The county has "followed good science" in trying to address the seasonal temperature increases, which are rarely more than 1 degree, said James E. Slater, the county planning department's deputy director of environment and resource protection. But the state found many violations during the summer and could levy fines of $10,000 for each one.

"We are backed into a corner, and this is something we have to do," Slater said. "Temperature was never meant to be applied to sewer plant effluent. But federal standards say that heat is a pollutant, and the state is applying those standards."

Although the vote to install the $1.7 million cooling equipment was unanimous, the commissioners said that they were extremely reluctant to take the action.

"We have more fish and bigger fish in the stream now," said Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge. "The same water that runs out of the plant gets warmer downstream where there is no shade. But if it is 2 degrees warmer coming out of the plant, we have to pay $2 million."

The plant discharges treated sewage, called effluent, into Piney Run, which becomes Western Run in Baltimore County, where it feeds into Loch Raven Reservoir. MDE requires the county to monitor the temperature of the effluent and to report any increase above 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit).

The state filed a complaint last month in Carroll County Circuit Court claiming that the discharge from the plant exceeded the legal threshold 39 times this summer, although rarely by more than 1 degree. The actual number of violations might have been higher because the complaint did not include data from August.

Fish are flourishing in Piney Run, according to a 2000 report from the state Department of Natural Resources, which found that the number of brown trout had increased.

Commissioner Dean L. Minnich said the equipment would not benefit the environment or the trout.

"The only thing this expense does is satisfy some bureaucrats in Annapolis," Minnich said. "Maybe we could catch fish and sell them to recoup the costs."

On a more serious note, Minnich said, "The people of Carroll County know that this is not about saving fish or maintaining temperature. It is about playing political football. The county has to spend millions because somebody wants to make a political point for 2 degrees."

Minnich urged Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. "to get us off the hook."

The county designed the chiller system five years ago and is updating those plans for a permit application to MDE. Commissioner Perry L. Jones Jr. said that he would allow the project to move forward, but he planned to contact state and federal officials in an effort to find a more equitable solution.

"We have to move forward, but this is a bunch of nonsense," Jones said. "We have to spend $2 million for 2 degrees three months of the year."

County staff urged the commissioners to proceed with the project, which will take about six months, so that the equipment will be in operation by summer. Contractors would install chillers at the plant on North Woods Trail to cool the effluent, so that it is released into the stream at a lower temperature, in compliance with the permit MDE issued in February.

"This is a mechanical solution with no environmental impact on the stream," said Franklin Schaeffer, Carroll's deputy director of public works. "Under the best conditions, we could have it on the ground by 2005."

Schaeffer expects to submit revised plans to MDE next week and hopes to receive a permit by the end of the year. He has put the project out to bid, but cannot start work until he has a permit.

"We have to get started, but if there are changes at the state level, we can call this to a halt," Gouge said.

The new equipment would cost about $35,000 a year to operate. The county would also absorb additional costs for staff and training. If noise becomes a problem, MDE might require noise abatement measures.

"Here we are talking about a noise ordinance," said Jones referring to a proposed law about noise levels from all-terrain vehicles. "And we are going around making noise."

Ron Ireland, the plant superintendent, invited the commissioners to tour the facility.

"As a taxpayer and as one who will have to deal with this equipment, I can show you that it won't benefit anybody," Ireland said.

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