Case against wastewater facility OK to proceed

Judge rules residents have standing

decision to delay Glenelg High addition

September 07, 2005|By Hanah Cho | Hanah Cho,SUN STAFF

The case against a wastewater treatment plant vital to an addition at Glenelg High School has survived after an administrative law judge ruled that residents opposed to the facility have legal standing to complain about potential water contamination and other environmental concerns.

In a nine-page opinion issued Thursday and mailed to the parties late last week, Judge Neile S. Friedman wrote that the four western Howard residents would be aggrieved by the treatment plant differently than the general public.

Friedman noted that the petitioners live close to the proposed site, including one resident who lives 80 to 90 feet away, and wrote that their concerns about environmental impact on the surrounding wetlands and groundwater were sufficient for the case to move forward.

The school system and the Maryland Department of the Environment had asked the judge to dismiss the case based on the argument that the residents opposed to the proposed plant did not have a right to challenge the permit process.

Now, a full hearing is scheduled to begin Nov. 7 at the Hunt Valley headquarters of the state Office of Administrative Hearings, and a decision should come within 30 days.

At issue is a shared treatment plant that would serve the 400-seat school addition and a proposed 32-home subdivision behind it.

The school system is seeking an environmental permit that would expand the amount of treated discharge it releases, from 32,000 to 50,000 gallons a day. The Department of the Environment in the spring granted approval for the revised permit, which is being challenged.

Friedman also denied a request by attorney Allen Dyer, who represents the four residents, for a summary decision in their favor based on two arguments: that the school system did not have legal authority to operate a shared wastewater treatment plant and that the state environmental permit process was deficient.

Friedman ruled that other issues, besides the request for an increased discharge flow, were not relevant.

"Part of the case we'll argue is related to the nuts and bolts of the environmental safety of the particular plant. We're missing the surrounding regulatory environment," Dyer said yesterday. "I think they feel relief that they're going to have a chance to present part of their case."

Despite a prediction by the school system's attorney that the case would be dismissed, school board Chairman Courtney Watson said she was not surprised by the judge's decision. Anthony Gorski, the attorney representing the school system, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

"It seems like [the court] wants to give the people contesting it every last-minute possible opportunity to make their case," Watson said. "We're disheartened because it will definitely delay the addition until April 2007 or possibly longer."

Initially expecting to open the addition in August 2006, school officials are hoping that it will be ready by April 2007 if a decision on the case is rendered by late November or early December.

"The idea is to get it ready and available by the 2007-2008 school year," said Raymond Brown, the school system's chief operating officer.

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