Mystic Harbor Sewer Plant Needs Replacing, Report Finds

SNOW
HILL – The Mystic Harbor wastewater plant must be replaced, concluded
the four-year sewer report created by ‘sewer czar’ Dennis Escher, but
regionalization is not part of his recommendations.

The
report was commissioned originally as a sewer regionalization study on how to
handle growth in the northern end of Worcester County, but the focus of the
study changed when the new comprehensive plan, approved in spring 2006,
established specific growth areas.

Considering
each county wastewater plant and service area individually, Escher concluded
that most were in good shape and need little in the way of changes.

The
Mystic Harbor sewer plant, however, was a red flag. Escher termed it “the big
one of the day” when he presented the report to the County Commissioners on
Tuesday.

The
35-year-old plant needs to be replaced within the next five years, Escher
concluded, because of capacity and effluent disposal problems.

Only
three quarters of the assigned EDUs are in use, but the plant often runs at
full capacity, and Escher estimates that the addition of the remaining hook ups
will push flows up by 35 percent.

“There’s
no redundancy to this plant,” Escher told the commissioners.

The
32 injection wells and an innovative vegetation nutrient removal system cannot
handle more effluent. The Maryland Department of the Environment has indicated,
according to the report, that it would not permit installation of more
injection wells.

Effluent
disposal alternatives are costly or simply not viable.

The
15th Street pump station in Ocean City does not have enough
capacity, Escher said, and it is not feasible to store the sewage and pump it
at night.

Spray
irrigation, the favored alternative of the County Commissioners, would require
a lot of land. There is some appropriate farmland available in the area, but
not enough, and the county might need to consider using woodlots, according to
the report.

 “You can find enough woods,” Commissioner
Virgil Shockley said.

Commissioner
Louise Gulyas asked if Escher had considered spraying effluent at the Ocean
City Airport.

Escher
said airport representatives had approached him six months ago about just that.

“I
realize they were trying to go through me to get to you folks,” he said,
referring to the airport’s desire for county support of a proposed runway
expansion.

An
ocean outfall would be far too expensive, according to the report. Three years
ago, Escher said, Rehoboth, Del., investigated an ocean outfall, only to be
told it would cost $22 million.

Escher
made an innovative suggestion about disposing of treated effluent through the
Ocean City Inlet. Seventy percent of the water in the bay there leaves in the
first two hours of the outgoing tide, he said, and treated effluent could be
pumped into the outgoing water.

‘That
means you only fish on the incoming tide?” Commissioner Bud Church joked.

“The
water’s clean,” Escher said. “I think it’s very feasible.”

The
county is already working on a temporary link between the Mystic Harbor sewer
system and the West Ocean City sewer system, said John Ross, deputy director of
Worcester County Public Works.

The
distance between the two systems is about 500 feet. An emergency connection
could be made in a matter of hours, Ross said.

Shockley
quipped that all they needed was two hacksaws and some PVC glue.

“We
could actually have a new treatment plant in three years,” if preliminary
arrangements were begun this month, said Escher. The cost of the new plant,
about $7.5 million with the purchase of a new site, would be covered by adding
1,000 EDUs.

The
recently expanded Ocean Pines plant, on the other hand, is just fine the way it
is.

“This
plant operates extremely well,” said Escher, consistently coming in well under
the total maximum daily load limit for the St. Martin River.

“Which
is why Ocean Pines [is] the only plant in the state exempt from the flush fee,”
said Commissioners Judy Boggs.

A
switch to spray irrigation would cost about $11 million, Escher said, and need
about 700 acres.

If
the Greater Ocean Pines Sewer Service Area is established, Escher estimated
that it would pay for itself at $11,500 per each of the 611 EDUs.

The
report concluded that River Run, Assateague Pointe, and Riddle Farm sewer
systems also function well.

The
Showell Perdue wastewater plant, proposed by developer ADC Builders to serve
1,000 new homes, should be converted to three or four parallel systems, Escher
said, to accommodate groups of homes as they are completed.

If
the county wants to pursue some regionalization of the sewer systems, Escher
suggested jumping on board with the Berlin municipal sewer plant expansion.
There is a lot of farmland available for spray irrigation there.

“It’s something to
think about,” Escher said.  

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