Wastewater facility debated

Officials, residents weigh in on plant needed for Glenelg High School addition

April 06, 2005|By Hanah Cho | Hanah Cho,SUN STAFF

Howard County school officials remain hopeful about getting state approval for a new wastewater treatment facility for Glenelg High School's much-needed addition, despite concerns over possible contamination of drinking water in western Howard County.

Nearly 100 people gathered at Glenelg for a public hearing Monday night before the Maryland Department of the Environment, which must issue a permit for the treatment facility. The crowd appeared evenly split between those who were concerned over the effects of the proposed treatment facility on the drinking water and those who disagreed with that assessment, saying that the crowded high school desperately needs more seats.

"Please do not let the voice of the few prevent us from providing a high-quality education for the many," said Kendall Morton, the science department's instructional team leader at Glenelg High, noting that the school has four laboratories compared with nine at other high schools.

But others worried about possible contamination of their wells, decreasing property values and whether the treatment facility can handle certain situations such as power outages and leakages.

"We have a vested interest in seeing the improvements made to Glenelg High, but not at the expense of our family's or our neighbor's health and welfare or quality of life," said Mary Jane Grauso, whose seventh-grade daughter would eventually attend Glenelg.

Ching-Tzone Tien, chief of MDE's groundwater discharge permit division, said he will review and respond to all public comments and expects to issue a final determination within a month. Residents have until Monday to submit written comments to MDE.

The issue over the school's aging septic system has hampered construction of a 400-seat addition for many years. Because western Howard County doesn't have public sewer and water lines, MDE must approve permits for septic or wastewater treatment facilities.

Meanwhile, parents and administrators say the lack of space is hindering students' learning ability. The school is 27 percent over capacity this year with 1,273 students.

Previous plans, including building a small wastewater treatment plant at nearby Triadelphia Ridge Elementary School, were opposed by community members. Three years ago, the school system reached a deal to build two septic systems - one for Glenelg and another for a developer's planned 30-home community on the adjoining Musgrove family farm.

Revised state guidelines forced the school system to redesign the septic systems as a single, shared wastewater treatment facility that would serve Glenelg and the proposed development, school officials said.

Under review by MDE officials is a request to increase the daily wastewater flow to 50,000 gallons from 32,000 gallons to accommodate both projects.

MDE's approval of a groundwater discharge permit - which regulates disposal of treated wastewater into the state's groundwater - would allow the school system to obtain a construction permit for the proposed treatment facility and then a building permit for Glenelg's addition. The addition is scheduled to open in August 2006.

Supporters of the proposed treatment facility - including parents, school administrators and teachers - said they are more worried about the effects of Glenelg's current septic system on the area's drinking water.

"Did anyone in this room use the facilities tonight and think about it as you flushed the toilets and washed your hands?" asked Ellen Frketic, whose seventh-grade daughter would attend Glenelg.

But other residents raised questions over the treatment plant's operations and maintenance, including oversight and monitoring, as well as the impact on the facility's capacity when residents of the proposed development want to expand their homes.

"What will we do when the system fails?" said Robert Jacobs, who lives in Dayton. "One day of failure means 50,000 gallons [of wastewater] in the trenches."

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