Arundel given treatment-plant deal

State will pay $111 million to upgrade the county's seven facilities


November 29, 2006|By Phillip McGowan | Phillip McGowan,Sun reporter

The state will pay $111 million to retrofit Anne Arundel County's seven wastewater plants as part of an ambitious proposal that officials said will accommodate new growth while improving the health of the Chesapeake Bay.

In the deal signed yesterday by County Executive Janet S. Owens and state Environmental Secretary Kendl P. Philbrick, the state will bear the entire cost of the upgrades through the so-called "flush tax" to ensure that the county meets tougher standards for nutrient removal.

Philbrick said the agreement, about 18 months in the making, is the first in Maryland "to take a holistic approach toward addressing all of the county's major wastewater treatment facilities."

The county has the state's third-largest sewage treatment plant capacity behind Baltimore City and the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, which oversees sewage treatment in Montgomery and Prince George's counties.

Anne Arundel meets or exceeds seasonal state environmental standards. But once the upgrades at Anne Arundel's plants are complete, they will stop the dumping of 7 1/2 million pounds of nitrogen into the bay each year, the secretary said. Nitrogen and phosphorus are the bay's biggest pollutants.

"We have over 500 miles of shoreline, so the benefits of this agreement for us, with the significant funding involved, will have the major impact on ... Chesapeake Bay restoration," Owens said.

Philbrick said two of the state's 66 wastewater plants are running under the enhanced standards. Twelve are being upgraded, he said. Altogether, they discharge more than 500,000 gallons of treated wastewater each day, which makes up about 95 percent of the state's total sewage flow.

The county has agreed to complete the upgrades by 2011, a timetable that county Public Works Director Ronald E. Bowen classified as "aggressive." The deal allows for upgrades to be phased in.

The retrofitting will coincide with a major military expansion at Fort Meade that is expected to generate the construction of thousands of homes and billions of dollars of office and retail facilities. This summer, the Defense Department agreed to pay $22 million to upgrade wastewater facilities at the state's five major military installations, including Fort Meade, in lieu of paying the flush tax.

Maryland homeowners help pay to replace failing septic systems, improve sewage treatment plants and fund programs to prevent nutrient runoff from farms through the $30 annual tax, which goes to the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund.

The Sun reported in August that half of the first 10 sewage treatment plants getting money from the fund have expanded capacity that will allow more development, including thousands of homes in sensitive areas.

In Anne Arundel, the $111 million will be spent only on the treatment facilities, not on aging pipes or pumping stations, which were the source of four major spills last year.

Bowen said the plant upgrades may have a side benefit of allowing the county to connect clusters of an estimated 37,000 septic systems to the wastewater system and reduce nutrient outflow.

Michael P. Bonk, a deputy director for public works, said about 10,000 septic systems have been pulled offline in the past 15 years.

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