Planning Comm. Holds Off Vote On New Plant Discharge

SNOW HILL – The new wastewater plant planned for Berlin on the old Tyson chicken processing site will discharge treated effluent to a local creek for 10 years, Worcester County planning officials heard last week, a practice that the town hopes will be countered by better nutrient management in other areas.

Plans for an expansion of the current plant to remedy capacity and nutrient issues had gone all the way to the Worcester County Planning Commission before developer Troy Purnell’s offer to allow the town to piggy-back on a separate plant he had planned for his Crossroads project caused officials to halt that process.

Now Berlin and Purnell need the county to amend the water and sewer plan to include the new approach.

The Planning Commission did not vote last week on the recommendation, instead scheduling a work session for later this month. That work session should include the County Commissioners, Planning Commission Chair Carolyn Cummins said.

The surface discharge from the new plant at the Crossroads may be a sticking point for the Planning Commission, which has campaigned to get treated effluent out of local waters, enshrining that goal in the 2006 Worcester County Comprehensive Plan.

Attorney Joe Moore, representing the town of Berlin, told the Worcester County Planning Commission last Thursday, “This is not a permanent solution because we do recognize the ultimate goal of the county to have no surface discharge unless it’s in the ocean.”

Berlin’s current wastewater plant discharges effluent to spray irrigation fields in the summer and is authorized to discharge the treated effluent to a local stream in the winter, if it cannot be stored.

The town is under a consent order from the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) over the discharge, as the existing plant cannot treat the effluent to the required standard. Berlin is currently violating that consent order and must pay fines for discharging.

The town has offered to offset the new plant discharge with six best management practices including bringing area homes into public sewer; adding spray irrigation at the Bay Club; working with nearby farms to use that land for spray irrigation; purchasing more spray land; requiring developers to provide spray sites; and installing under drains at the current spray sites.

Berlin, the only municipality in Worcester County to already use spray irrigation to dispose of treated effluent, has had difficulty finding new spray sites.

“We have a huge amount of acreage. Unfortunately, it’s acreage that does not have the most suitable soils,” Moore said of current spray land.

The town’s spray fields are located nine miles away, according to consultant Dane Bauer, because Berlin has “lousy” soils. 

There has been talk of annexing the Bay Club property west of town into Berlin to provide spray irrigation land, but that could be problematic, as the property is not contiguous with town borders, lying roughly two miles away.  The Bay Club, said Berlin chief administrator Linda Bambary, has offered the golf course for spray irrigation in exchange for public water and sewer.

According to Moore, a non-contiguous annexation has never been allowed in Maryland.

“We really need the county to help us on this thing. All of these land application situations are under county control,” Moore said. “We’re breaking new ground here.”

But, for at least the next decade, planners foresee using the less palatable waterway discharge. The surface discharged effluent will be treated to a high standard, Moore emphasized.

“The decrease in total nitrogen is substantial,” said Mark Prouty, an engineering consultant to the town. “We are hopeful that in a six- to eight-year timeframe we can have a system with zero discharge.”

The lack of wastewater capacity has put Berlin into a virtual moratorium, according to Moore.

Moore repeatedly referred to the Worcester County Comprehensive Plan and the growth area the plan allocates to Berlin. The Berlin vicinity includes 1,326 acres of growth area, allowing 2,910 units.

“Berlin has nearly two times the growth area of any municipality in the county allocated to it,” Moore said.

A scheme to bring Germantown area homes now on septic into the public system, despite their location outside the town and the assigned growth area, was discussed. The idea is problematic, with the area outside the town, and not part of the sewer service area.

“It would be a high priority to us for something like that to occur,” said Cummins.

Room would have to be made for the estimated 50,000 gallons per day of sewage generated by those residences, said Prouty. “It is only in its infancy,” he said. “We don’t have a specific timetable for doing that.”

The commission had little to say Thursday, raising a few questions about timelines, and Cummins criticized the lack of a schedule to implement the six non-point source reduction efforts. Planning Commissioner Jeannie Lynch agreed, saying that the timeframe was key.

“I’m looking for something that occurs upfront, too, nothing that puts it till later,” Cummins said.