SNOW HILL – The Riddle Farm-Ocean Pines water connection will run under Turville Creek, and the cost will be shared proportionally between the two service areas, the county said this week as it authorized staff to take the next steps to bring the project to fruition.
Worcester County elected officials finally chose the route for the pipeline Tuesday, rejecting the Route 589 option, which would cost three times the alternative route under Turville Creek.
“The path leading it across the creek would cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $350,000,” said Comprehensive Planning Director Sandy Coyman. “Running it down 589 would be $1 million.”
The water connection will provide more fire protection, redundancy and flexibility during maintenance or emergencies, but will not bring more customers into the water system, Coyman said. The county recently created a new designation in the water and sewer plan to declare that the pipe will not provide water service outside the current Ocean Pines and Riddle Farm service areas
“The only time this will be turned on is if we need it,” said Commissioner Virgil Shockley. “It’s strictly there for back-up. That’s it.”
The cost will be partly covered by fees paid by Bay Pointe Plantation for water hookups into the Ocean Pines system, which has been agreed to for some time. The exact cost has not been determined.
“I’m not sure the cost has all been worked out yet. We have basic rough estimates. I don’t believe we’ve gotten that far,” said Coyman.
Ocean Pines resident Joe Reynolds was the only speaker during the public hearing. “I hope before you vote for it you’ll decide how to pay for it,” said Reynolds.
The cost should be borne equally by both service areas, Reynolds said.
“I assure you that my priority also is protection of Ocean Pines rate payers,” said Commissioner Judy Boggs, representing south Ocean Pines.
“We want to make sure Ocean Pines is treated adequately and equitably,” said Commissioner Linda Busick, who represents northern Ocean Pines.
“That speaks for all of us,” said Commission president James Purnell.
Commissioner Louise Gulyas said, “We also have to be fair to Riddle Farm. We saw what happened at the Developmental Center. We don’t want that to happen again.”
Firefighters combating the Worcester County Developmental Center fire earlier this month ran out of water from the community system and had to use water from a nearby lagoon.
“Certainly we’ll divide that cost equitably,” said John Ross, deputy director of Public Works. “Ocean Pines has something in the neighborhood of 8,000 customers. Riddle Farm at full build out will have something in the neighborhood of 600 … Ocean Pines will absorb the majority of the cost.”
Reynolds also expressed concern that the connection could lead to a public water supply for areas further east, saying that once the connection to Riddle Farm is made, extending the pipe network would be that much easier. He pointed out that Dennis Escher, public facilities project manager, suggested such a network in a recent report on the northern county water supply.
Escher, said Reynolds, also suggested sending Ocean Pines water to Riddle Farm in the off-season. Riddle Farm uses water from the Manokin aquifer, which must be treated for iron, and that treatment process is expensive. Ocean Pines’ water, from the Pleistocene aquifer, needs little treatment, however.
“Will we be facing water shortages in Ocean Pines?” Reynolds asked.
“That’s not what our intent is,” said Shockley.
Doing so could save Riddle Farm a lot of money, Reynolds said. He said he wanted to make sure that Ocean Pines water quality remains high, in good supply and at an equitable cost.
Ocean Pines will save money through the connection, Coyman said. The other alternative for redundancy would be new wells in south Ocean Pines, which would be expensive, $2.3 million vs. $350,000 for the under creek connection. New wells in south Ocean Pines would tap the Manokin aquifer, and the water would require treatment for iron.
“It really is looking at the cost and trying to save money,” said Coyman.
Reynolds said there was a discrepancy in what the county was saying, between the talk of adding capacity and the protestations that the connection would only be for maintenance.
“There’s a little bit of scare tactics going on here,” said Reynolds. “I’m not confident that some of these issues are not more political in nature.”
Boggs said she was dismayed at the accusation, which, she said, was baseless.
Water usage actually declined in Ocean Pines this year, Reynolds said, despite the drought.
According to Ross, better management of the water system, and the conservation water rate helped decrease the water used. Ross acknowledged that he has three reports sitting on his desk showing that Ocean Pines does not have enough water, but the changes made should be enough to counteract the shortfall.
“Water conservation should have been up [this summer] and we didn’t have any peaks,” said Ross.