Cash Restraints Limit Septic Upgrades

SNOW HILL – Just 10 septic systems in the Atlantic Coastal
Bays Critical Area will be upgraded to
protect water quality in the next six months
because of funding limitations.

Despite
a request for $1.4 million in money from the Bay Restoration Fund collected
from septic system users, which would have covered 116 upgrades for the next
two years, Worcester County was awarded only $113,500 for the first half of
fiscal year 2011.

“That
will get us started for the year,” said Development Review and Permitting
Director Ed Tudor.

The
state will award the second half of the Bay Restoration Septic grant funding in
January 2011.

Worcester
County already has far more than 10 documented septic system failures and has
already applied to upgrade those systems with enhanced nutrient removal (ENR)
technology. Most identified septic failures are in the county’s Critical Area.

Owners
of failing systems outside the Critical Area will have to replace their systems
with conventional technology until state grant monies are freed up for
properties outside the Critical Area.        

The state of Maryland septic system improvement program has undergone some
major alterations recently, staff said.

In
the 2009 legislative session, the General Assembly approved a law requiring new
and replacement septic systems for Critical Area properties to use the best
nitrogen removal technology available at the time.

A
bill approved in the 2010 legislative session requires the Maryland Department
of the Environment to help homeowners in the Critical Area with failing on-site
septic systems, using money from the Bay Restoration fund, for the next three
years.

Property
owners planning voluntary upgrades will no longer be able to take advantage of
the Bay Restoration grant funding, with absolute priority given to failing
systems within the Atlantic Coastal Bays Critical Area. 

The
grant money is limited and is being targeted to the Critical Area, Tudor said.

For
the next six months, only failing systems in the Critical Area will be eligible
for upgrade using the state’s best available septic technology funding. Septic
failures outside the Critical Area line, which stretches 1,000 feet from tidal
waters, could be considered after six months.

Once
the county uses its septic restoration money, staff can apply to the state for
more dollars, hoping to be awarded funds that are going unused in other
counties.

Legislative
changes mean that funding is also now being offered to the county government
to reimburse administrative costs and mileage, according to
staff. Worcester County will receive $990 per system installed and 50
cents per mile.

The
state Bay Restoration grant monies will pay for all of each septic system’s
nutrient removal upgrade, except for permit and recording fees for the
five-year maintenance agreement.

Worcester
will pay the contractor after system installation and then apply to the state
for reimbursement.

The  County Commissioners agreed Tuesday to take
over inspection duties on Somerset County’s estimated 12 septic upgrades, a
request made by the Maryland
Department of the Environment (MDE) after the Somerset County Health Department decided not to
participate because of budget cuts.

Worcester
County would be reimbursed for the inspection work in Somerset County.

“It’s
not that many systems. It’s something we can manage,” said Tudor.

Environmental
Programs Administrator Bob Mitchell said that handling  MDE’s request to
assist in Somerset County also gains Worcester
County points with the state that could help with later requests for septic upgrade
funding. 

Worcester
County must compete with other
counties for the limited pool of septic upgrade money.

“We
asked for a lot of money here. We didn’t get a lot,” said Mitchell.

That was not

unusual this year, he noted. Wicomico County asked for roughly $2 million and got just $150,000.

So
far, in the two years since the septic program began, Worcester County has
improved over 100 septic systems, Mitchell said.

Mitchell
noted that 40 percent of the septic upgrade funding awarded to Worcester County
over the past two years has gone to local contractors.

The county is
holding the line on septic impacts to the coastal bays, Mitchell said.

“It‘s only going to get
better from this point on,” said Mitchell.

“It
is a crucial program. I’m glad even if our funding is reduced we’re still
getting something,” said Commissioner Linda Busick.

                 

 

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