Westminster expects to allow limited development

March 27, 2007|By Laura McCandlish | Laura McCandlish,sun reporter

After operating under a six-month building moratorium because of a water shortage, Westminster officials said yesterday they expect to sign an agreement with the state next week that will allow a limited amount of development to move forward in the Carroll County seat.

The agreement will allocate an additional 60,000 gallons a day to Westminster, allowing for some building permits to be approved, Mayor Thomas K. Ferguson said.

"The agreement is really only the beginning," Ferguson said. "It sets up a path and direction for future water resources. We've got a fair amount of work ahead of us, but at least now we're all on the same page."

New state guidelines determined in September that Westminster could not meet its water demand during a drought and faced a deficit of up to 900,000 gallons a day, officials said.

Carroll's eight municipalities have struggled with new state regulations that reduce the amount of water that towns are permitted to draw from wells.

Environmental officials will not sign off on new building permits until a municipality can demonstrate that it can meet the water demand created by development.

To reach an agreement with the state, Westminster officials proposed several new water sources, including construction of an emergency pipeline between Medford Quarry and the city's 115 million-gallon reservoir, and drawing water directly from intakes at Little Pipe and Big Pipe creeks.

For the long term, Westminster is examining the county's revived plans for two reservoirs, one at Union Mills and the other at Gillis Falls. But those projects face significant federal hurdles, will take 10 years to complete and cost at least $166 million to construct, county officials said.

"Water projects are going to be a major factor in our [community investment plans] for some years to come," Ted Zaleski, the county budget director, said yesterday.

The federal Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency discouraged Carroll's twin reservoir projects when they were first pressed in the 1970s and 1980s. But with the state now pushing groundwater restrictions, county officials are hopeful that dam projects may again become feasible.

"It is the primary resource that is going to have to be there," Ferguson said of the Union Mills reservoir site. "We cannot continue to rely on groundwater."

State officials from the environmental department are scheduled to come to Westminster April 3 to sign a consent agreement with the city.laura.mccandlish@baltsun.com

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