Blame game goes on over Glenelg High expansion delay

Effort fails to resolve treatment plant dispute

Education Beat

News from Howard County schools and colleges

August 14, 2005|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

The blame game over who is delaying Glenelg High School's expansion continues in the wake of last week's failure of a settlement conference aimed at resolving a dispute over wastewater treatment vital to the project.

Allen Dyer, the attorney for residents opposing a planned shared wastewater treatment plant for the 400-seat school addition and a 32-home subdivision behind it, said the delays are the school board's fault.

"The schools have the power of eminent domain," he said, and could have taken the land needed years ago. "The tendency for the bureaucrats of the central office to take the quick road is coming back to haunt them."

The unsuccessful conference was held Wednesday at the Hunt Valley headquarters of the state Office of Administrative Hearings.

Dyer argues that the school board could build the addition if it simply abandoned trying to serve the private development on the old Musgrove farm. Western Howard County has no public utilities.

"They're claiming that school construction is being held up. It's not. They're holding up school construction for this residential development," he said.

The shared wastewater plant simply would be too large, he said, risking area water wells if anything went wrong.

The county won a state environmental permit for 32,000 gallons a day of treated discharge last year, but it is seeking permission to expand that to 50,000 gallons a day.

Tony Gorski, the board's attorney, said Dyer is wrong and that his case will be dismissed.

"What Dyer conveniently leaves out of his conversations is this: There's not enough [school] land for the [wastewater] drain fields, which are on an adjacent farm."

The state declared that such a shared arrangement with the private development amounts to a shared system that must be operated by a government agency.

"You end up with a state-of-the-art treatment system," Gorski said.

Dyer's further requests for an extra ultraviolet-light treatment and a lower nitrate content in the treated water than occurs naturally are unreasonable, Gorski said.

Meanwhile Glenelg High's enrollment of 1,237 students was 27 percent over capacity last year, and the school still lacks the five new science labs the addition would bring.

"What I keep thinking about is the kids in the school -- the kids who have to deal with the overcrowded situation," said Diane Mikulis, a school board member who lives in the area.

Raymond Brown, the school system's chief operating officer, said the addition still could be built and open in spring of 2007 if Dyer's case is dismissed soon, or the project could be ready in August 2007 if a decision is rendered by December.

A full administrative hearing is scheduled for Nov. 7, and a decision should come within 30 days, officials said.

"We needed this addition yesterday. Any further delay is disheartening," said Courtney Watson, the school board chairman.

Gorski said he feels chances are good that Dyer's case could be dismissed.

"You have to show harm or that the permit is based on an error in the law or a mistake in fact. They haven't met that burden," he said.

Dyer agreed that the requirements for appeals "are increasingly being heightened to make it more and more difficult for anyone to contest a decision regarding the environment."

County Councilman Charles C. Feaga, a western county Republican who represents the area, said he, too, would have been happier if the school and the homes had their own septic areas.

"I think this is the best way they can do it, and I don't see an alternative," he said.

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