Gilchrest asks EPA to investigate pollution complaints

Spray irrigation system might harm tributary, Shore congressman says

April 29, 2005|By Chris Guy | Chris Guy,SUN STAFF

CENTREVILLE - A year after an aging wastewater treatment plant was found to have dumped millions of gallons of raw sewage into the Corsica River, Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest is asking the Environmental Protection Agency to investigate new pollution complaints.

The Eastern Shore Republican says Centreville's month-old spray irrigation system - part of a new $9.7 million treatment plant - might be allowing erosion and runoff of treated water into Three Bridge Branch, a tributary of the Corsica.

Gilchrest said he became alarmed after viewing a DVD prepared by a community activist that appears to show violations of federal and state laws at a 220-acre irrigation site, where the town disposes of some treated wastewater by spraying it onto the fields.

Based on what he saw on the DVD, Gilchrest said, "the water runoff violates every performance standard there is. It's a big, unexplainable, unreasonable mess."

He said he met this week with an EPA official in Washington and has made a formal request for a full inspection by the agency's Philadelphia field office.

Spray irrigation is designed as the final phase of a treatment system in which clean water pumped from the town's treatment plant is applied to fields to percolate through the soil or evaporate.

Sveinn C. Storm, a Centreville resident who helped bring earlier pollution problems to light, says he has shot two DVDs at the town's irrigation fields.

Storm says the footage shows that operators sprayed when fields were already saturated from heavy rains, allowed erosion that created gullies as deep as 4 feet and committed other flagrant violations that sent soil-laden water into a stream that feeds the Corsica.

The Maryland Department of the Environment says inspectors have visited the plant at least three times this month and found only minor problems related to start-up of the operation.

State inspectors have seen one of the two videodiscs shot by Storm, said Julie Oberg, an MDE spokeswoman. This week, the agency shut down the spray operation when winds exceeded 10 mph, she said.

"It's disturbing that a concerned citizen would go to the media or lawmakers instead of coming directly to the enforcement agency," Oberg said. "We have not seen any evidence that spraying took place in the rain."

Town Councilwoman Mary McCarthy said officials are looking for more farmland to expand the spray irrigation, a move that will increase sewage treatment capacity and allow the start of approved residential and commercial growth in the town of 2,600.

"We want this done right, and if Mr. Storm can hold people accountable, then fine," McCarthy said. "And I would completely welcome EPA coming in. We need an objective source to tell us if we're in compliance."

Last year, a building moratorium was imposed in Centreville as MDE investigated accusations that rapid development in the Queen Anne's County seat overwhelmed the town's 45-year-old treatment plant. By November, the new 500,000- gallon plant was operational. Spray irrigation began in March.

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