Treatment plant draws criticism

Mismanagement, not criminality, noted at Centreville sewage facility by grand jury


CENTREVILLE -- A Queen Anne's County grand jury has concluded that an aging sewage treatment plant here was grossly mismanaged for years but found no evidence of criminal wrong- doing.

In its report, the jury criticized the Maryland Department of the Environment for relying too heavily on self-reporting by town employees of sewage discharges. The panel outlined a half-dozen recommendations for increasing scrutiny on small municipal plants, including hiring more inspectors and stepping up random and unannounced inspections.

Officials at MDE say they have implemented many of the recommendations, including a new policy to more closely monitor plants that are approaching capacity.

Meeting for five days from February to September last year, the panel investigated claims by a former plant employee, who charged that the plant for years polluted a stream that feeds into the Corsica River and that the state was not told.

While such discharges would amount to a serious violation of environmental law, the grand jury could not substantiate the claims. The jury also was unable to verify accusations that use of the plant was deliberately under-reported to allow construction to continue in Centreville.

The grand jurors heard testimony from MDE officials and inspectors, criminal investigators from the attorney general's Environmental Crimes Unit, as well as town and county officials.

"We believe the Centreville Wastewater Treatment Plant was grossly mismanaged by the Town. Further, these problems were for the most part not detected by MDE through their oversight of the Plant," the report said. "Although we did not find probable cause to establish that specific crimes had occurred, we are left with a lack of confidence that self-reporting is effective."

The panel's 16-page report, unsealed this week, concludes a two-year episode in which the rapidly growing town struggled to deal with increasing development that some residents said overwhelmed the aging wastewater plant.

A new $9.7 million treatment plant has been operating since October 2004, and a state-mandated wastewater management plan is in place. "Now, the town has an opportunity to move forward in a positive way," said Town Council President Mary McCarthy. "I'm confident that our wastewater treatment operation is protecting the environment."

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