BERLIN – An official gold shovel groundbreaking ceremony for the Berlin wastewater treatment plant expansion and improvements on Friday inaugurated the long-awaited project, which is intended to improve the plant’s effect on the environment and make more growth in Berlin possible.
The event on Friday attracted a large crowd, including U. S. Congressman Frank Kratovil and officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development Program, as well as local politicians from the Berlin Mayor and Council and the Worcester County Commissioners, and well-wishers.
The turnout may have been prompted in part by the funding sources for the wastewater plant work, which came from American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds, also known as stimulus funding, through the USDA, as well as the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE), and the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development in the form of a community development block grant.
“When we all work together, anything is possible,” said Berlin Mayor Gee Williams during remarks in front of the Atlantic Hotel.
The Berlin wastewater treatment plant is one of the first projects in the nation to receive ARRA funding, which was created in February 2009 to fund ready-to-go infrastructure projects.
“We were one of the first projects in the state of Maryland with stimulus money to be underway and make it work,” said Williams.
Approving the stimulus bill “was a difficult decision but it was the right decision. I think we’re beginning to see the benefits of that decision,” said Kratovil during remarks after the ceremonial groundbreaking.
Rural Development State Director Jack Tarburton said this project was government at its best.
“This wastewater treatment project in Berlin is an example of how the Recovery Act not only is creating jobs, but also is protecting the environment and providing much-needed infrastructure improvements for the residents for years to come,” said Tarburton.
Speakers at the groundbreaking referred several times to construction worker Mike Dale’s story to emphasize the impact of the stimulus. Dale, a 10-year employee of contractor Bearing Construction, was laid off in summer 2008. The new contract to build the expansion and add improvements to the Berlin plant put him back on the job.
“Mike’s ability to go back to work and support his family is what the president and Congress had in mind,” said Jacki Ponti-Lazaruk, Rural Development Assistant Administrator, Water and Environmental Program.
Wastewater and water projects are a priority for Rural Development, Ponti-Lazaruk said. Rural areas need a foundation of good infrastructure to grow on.
“USDA is working hard to get America growing again and to turn from hard times to better times by doing the work that needs to get done,” said Ponti-Lazaruk.
“This is so exciting because what we’re seeing is exactly what we hoped to see,” said Lee Whaley, representing Maryland Senator Ben Cardin.
Walid Saffouri, program manager for MDE’s engineering and capital projects program, said the project will have far-reaching ramifications.
“It will ensure that the town continues to meet its discharge permit and it will ensure the town will continue to grow in the future,” said Saffouri.
The improved nutrient removal technology being installed at the Berlin plant will reduce nutrient loads on local waters by 27,000 pounds a year.
“I’m happy to see it happening. I’ve been involved with it since 2002 and it feels like a dream to me,” Saffouri said.