Carroll Co. digs in heels in water-cooling debate

Plant discharge is too hot

violates MDE requirement

March 09, 2005|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Carroll County commissioners adamantly refused yesterday to spend more money on cooling equipment for a wastewater treatment plant in Hampstead until the Maryland Department of the Environment tells them why the costly improvements are necessary.

A visibly angry Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge questioned the rationale for spending $26,000 to design backup equipment the plant might not use.

"I will not spend any more money on something that does nothing for the environment," Gouge said at the commissioners meeting. "No one from the state has told us why we have to do this, and now they are telling us we need to double the equipment. This is not the way the state is supposed to treat the counties."

Franklin Schaeffer, deputy director of the county's Public Works Department, said yesterday the state has added more requirements that he said will cost $26,000 just to design.

Plans are on hold, pending the outcome of a court appeal, for the installation of $2.2 million chillers that would cool the water as it leaves the plant. MDE recently required a backup system, including an on-site generator, should any part of the equipment fail.

"Basically, MDE wants to protect itself at our expense," Schaeffer said. "They want more documentation on everything."

The plant discharges treated water into Piney Run. But the discharge cannot exceed 68 degrees if the county is to remain in compliance with a permit that MDE issued a year ago.

During the warm-weather months, the plant violates the permit requirements - more than 30 times last summer - but rarely by more than 1 degree, state officials said. MDE imposed fines of as much as $1,500 a day, but a county Circuit Court judge waived those costs.

The Court of Special Appeals is expected to rule on the temperature requirements this year. Should the court rule against the county, the equipment would have to be in place by the summer of 2006.

The county must prepare "to comply with the current constraints of the permit," said Steven D. Powell, the commissioners' chief of staff. "If science does not prevail, we have to go with the chillers. If they are not in place, we face significant fines."

The state could levy fines of up to $10,000 for each day the water temperature exceeds 68 degrees.

"Let's dump extra ice into the stream and get the same results," Commissioner Dean L. Minnich said.

Gouge will invite Kendl P. Philbrick, Maryland's secretary of the environment, to a presentation detailing improvements the county has made at the plant, including landscaping to shield the stream from the sun.

"Our efforts to be good stewards, buffering the stream as it enters the plant, have complicated our ability to meet this permit," Powell said. The cooled water heats up quicker during the treatment process.

Minnich added, "Common sense and reason are on our side. They are asking us to spend millions to cool water for a journey of about 1,000 feet."

County officials hope scientific data gathered about the health of the stream and its flourishing brown trout population will persuade MDE to modify the temperature limits.

"I want him [Philbrick] to explain to me, in language every citizen of this county can understand, why we have to spend millions of taxpayer money to chill water one degree," Gouge said. "The fish are abundant, and the water is fine."

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