SNOW HILL – Discharge limits have stymied Snug Harbor property owners’ bid to get sewer service for the 26 undeveloped lots in that community as they will continue to have to wait to build homes.
Staff reported to the County Commissioners at last week’s meeting that the county could not provide public sewer service to those lots.
County planning numbers for the Assateague Point wastewater treatment plant, which now serves 78 built lots in Snug Harbor, show that the plant is already over-committed. If all areas which are already using or have the right to use that plant were connected year round, the wastewater treatment plant would be over the discharge limit by 11.3 million gallons per year. The plant disposes of treated effluent through spray irrigation.
The Assateague Pointe wastewater treatment plant handles Assateague Point, Frontier Town, the developed property in Snug Harbor and the under construction Seaside development. The 26 unserved lots in Snug Harbor would add 2.3 million gallons of effluent if a single-family dwelling was built on each property.
The county has considered hooking the unserved and undeveloped lots into the Landings development wastewater treatment plant, but operational issues at that plant scuttled that idea.
“This has been an issue that’s been going on at least seven years,” said Commissioner Bud Church, pushing that something be done to connect those lots to public sewer.
While there is enough unused capacity to serve 75 EDUs, as identified by the Maryland Department of the Environment, that capacity has already been assigned to other projects.
Could the plant be tweaked to deal with another 26 EDUs, Church asked.
“The short answer is I don’t know,” said John Ross, deputy director of public works. “What I know for sure is there is a disposal issue. There’s a major disposal issue.”
The state’s limits on the number of gallons of effluent the county is permitted to spray is unchangeable.
“The problem is that’s a cast in stone, iron number I can’t do anything with,” said Ross.
“I just can’t believe in my mind that we can’t service those people…they’re taxpayers,” said Church of the lot owners.
“The problem comes from over-commitment,” Commission President Louise Gulyas said, adding that it has nothing to do with building or selling those properties. “I just don’t know how we can do this.”
If the county can find affordable spray land, it might be able to serve the unbuilt Snug Harbor lots, Gulyas felt.
“We need to address the concerns of these 26 property owners,” said Church.
“It was never said they would get service. Never,” said Gulyas.
Commissioner Judy Boggs said the issue is clear.
“The facts speak for themselves. We are over-committed…you can’t offer something you don’t have,” Boggs said.
Commission Jim Purnell said the facts are unfair.
“We continue to take tax money from 26 property owners yet they can’t do anything to the land,” said Purnell.
At this time, there is no way to dispose of that future effluent, said Gulyas, but that does not mean that the county is not looking for spray land.
“I think we should move forward in that direction,” said Purnell.
Church asked if attorney Hugh Cropper, retained by the Snug Harbor property owners, could speak for a few minutes.
“I would really not want to get in a major lawsuit which is on the horizon,” said Church.
“This is not a public hearing…we do not have the time. This will have to be handled at a different time,” Gulyas said.
The commissioners voted 4 to 3 to accept the sewer committee report and reassess the situation in the future. Church, Purnell and Commissioner Bobby Cowger voted against that motion.
Betty Nichols, head of the Snug Harbor homeowners association, was disappointed that the commissioners cannot seem to work with Snug Harbor to get sewer service for lots platted since the 1950s.
“We just seem to be going nowhere. We just seem to be spinning wheels. This is not very acceptable,” Nichols said. “We wanted to handle this through the county and with the county. It’s gone nowhere.”
Nichols said she must meet with the other owners of the unserved properties before saying what their next step will be. There are several options, according to Nichols.
“If we can’t win the commissioners over we may have to go through the courts,” said Nichols.