County On Own With Old Septic Tanks, State Says

SNOW HILL – The State of Maryland will not help Worcester County replace old septic tanks with new pollution reducing technology, the County Commissioners learned recently, despite the great reduction in nitrogen contamination from the enhanced septic systems.

Maryland state housing rehabilitation money cannot be used to buy the better, more expensive systems because neither the county nor the state code require the nutrient management technology. Property owners are merely required to have a standard septic set-up if not on public sewer.

“Conventional septics don’t treat for nitrogen,” said Worcester Environmental Programs Director Bob Mitchell, but nutrient management systems include nitrogen-reducing technology. “It’s basically a mini-treatment plant.”

Septic systems in good shape can be retrofitted with nutrient management technology between the tank and the drain field.

Cleaning up the bays, creeks and groundwater has to start somewhere, the County Commissioners said this month.

“If we intend to clean up our coastal bays, each and every time we hear of a septic system failing, the nutrient reduction system needs to be added to any replacement,” said County Commissioner Linda Busick. “If we don’t start doing it now, it will never get done.”

That effort will not, however, start with the state-grant funded private septic system replacement discussed Jan. 15, at the commissioners’ meeting.

“I just feel the proper way to go is with a nutrient removal system, I just can’t vote for this. This is not the manner in which we want to go in the county,” said Commissioner Louise Gulyas.

“You send a letter off to say we’d like to get some help here and you get whacked,” Commissioner Virgil Shockley said.

“We’re trying to do the right thing. However, the codes are working against us,” Commissioner Judy Boggs said.

The state is always talking about pollution, Shockley said later, but will not initiate the septic clean up effort. The Maryland Department of the Environment says one thing, but does another, he felt.

“Somewhere somebody has to set a priority. We can’t do it at the county level,” Shockley said.

Any septic clean-up would be gradual. “It didn’t get this way in six months. You’re not going to clean it up in six months,” he said.

A standard septic system installation costs about $4,000, while nutrient management systems cost about $10,000.

If Worcester County added a requirement for the nutrient management systems to the county code, state Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) monies might be possible, said Jo Ellen Bynum of the county’s Economic Development Office.

“It’s in the comprehensive plan,” said Gulyas of the enhanced septic systems, adding, “If it’s in the comprehensive plan, it should be in our code.”

“We should definitely address it in the code,” Busick said later.

In response, Mitchell said, “We are looking at making code changes.”

Septic systems in the critical area, within 1,000 feet of the water, may be replaced using state funds, however, and the coastline is now the focus.

“Right now, [funds] are going to be targeted to waterfront property owners,” Mitchell said.

“That has to be our priority,” Boggs agreed.

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