Wastewater plant order is OK'd

Agreement would reduce fines for Carroll for exceeding effluent temperature limits


Hoping to ward off expensive fines and avoid constructing a nearly $2 million water-chilling system, the Carroll County commissioners signed off on an agreement yesterday with the Maryland Department of the Environment involving the water temperature at the county's wastewater treatment plant in Hampstead.

The consent order, which stems from a 16-year-old legal dispute with environmental activists from Baltimore County, should be filed in Carroll County Circuit Court today, according to an MDE spokeswoman.

With the summer months bringing higher temperatures, Carroll officials were worried that the plant would release treated water warmer than MDE permits into the stream that feeds Loch Raven Reservoir in Baltimore County. MDE limits the temperature of water coming from the plant to 68 degrees Fahrenheit.

Environmentalists have closely watched this legal feud for years. Five years ago, a federal appeals court reversed a U.S. District Court decision, ruling that Carroll County had not violated the Clean Water Act with its discharges into Piney Run stream.

Then in 2003, when the county sought to increase the amount of effluent the Hampstead plant released into the stream, MDE said the county must spend millions of dollars to chill the treated water to the required 68 degrees.

"It's been a very long and drawn-out process," said James E. Slater, Jr., the county's environmental compliance officer. "We need to have protection [from MDE] as we go through the process. We could still be sued again."

The consent order asks MDE to fine the county $500 per day for exceeding the 68-degree limit, down from the $10,000 per day originally proposed.

Those penalties would be collected only if MDE requires the county to install the chillers, according to the agreement. The equipment would cool treated water as it leaves the plant and flows into the stream.

Slater said he expects a decision from MDE this summer.

Rather than harming the stream, county officials say, warmer water temperatures have boosted the brown trout population in and around Piney Run, the stream whose name changes to Western Run in Baltimore County. The county has completed numerous studies that show the trout fisheries are flourishing there, Slater said.

The county has asked MDE to allow effluent of up to 77 degrees - which would cover the dog days of summer, Slater said.

In the past, MDE ruled that spikes in the temperature of the treated water would harm the stream's aquatic life.

Even if MDE compromises with Carroll County on the issue, the Baltimore County residents are sure to fight back, said G. Macy Nelson, attorney for a group that calls itself the Piney Run Preservation Association.


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