SNOW HILL — With septic systems in the area in trouble, the Worcester County Commissioners agreed to continue to support extending water and sewer coverage to the Ocean Pines Plaza Commercial Sub-Area.
“The whole area has either failed or failing septic systems,” said Commissioner Judy Boggs, who represents the Ocean Pines District.
Properties in that sub-area have been served by private well and septic for years. But in September 2010, the septic and treatment system for the Pines Plaza, which is the largest property, failed.
Since then, the Pines Plaza has operated on a “pump-and-haul arrangement” followed by a temporary, emergency connection to the Ocean Pines Sanitary Area, according to a report written by Bob Mitchell, director of Environmental Programs. That connection has been renewed three times, each for a six-month period.
In his report, Mitchell noted that his department has conducted a sanitary survey of properties in the area and found them “generally poorly suitable for sewage disposal.”
“…we have failed systems, older systems with inadequate replacement areas,” he wrote, “and systems showing signs of stress receiving more flow than they were originally designed to handle.”
Mitchell added that the wells serving the area are in an “unconfined aquifer” and are clearly being effected by nearby failing septic systems.
“I do not want to see a derelict Pines Plaza Center,” said Boggs.
If left outside of county water and sewage coverage, Boggs feared that the Pines Plaza and the surrounding area would soon find themselves without working septic systems, which would make the properties uninhabitable.
Worcester pursued funding from the United States Department of Agriculture and Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE). More than $2.7 million worth of loans and grants were secured, with the loans financed at low-interest over the next several decades. The remaining $200,000 needed to fully fund the project is considered the local share.
Enterprise Fund Controller Jennifer Savage issued a memo explaining that there would be a $1,700 per EDU one-time upfront fee, as well as a debt service cost of $200 per EDU per quarter for properties in the Pines Plaza area seeking to join the county network.
Because the zone is outside of Ocean Pines normal coverage area, property owners are charged 150 percent of the rates that residents pay.
However, Boggs believes that the deal is beneficial for the Pines Plaza location and pointed out that the costs would be much higher if not for all of the state and federal funding available, something she credited especially to Savage.
A series of public input hearings are set to be scheduled over the next few months to further discuss the issue. Boggs hopes that the process will move along quickly, as water and septic in the area have been troublesome for many years already.
“They have been hampered from growing … It’s very costly,” she said.
The grants and loans currently available also have a deadline, stressed Boggs.
“These grants don’t have a lifetime,” she said.
Protective of her district, Boggs was adamant about not seeing any “blighted areas” in Ocean Pines, a fate she predicts for Pines Plaza if the county doesn’t step in.
Besides helping current properties, Boggs was confident that hooking the area up to Worcester water and sewer would make the spot more eye-catching to businesses considering moving in.
“You won’t attract new business with failing septic systems,” she said.