Vacant Lots In Snug Harbor To Wait On Sewer

SNOW HILL – Nine months after signing a petition asking for sewer service to undeveloped properties in Snug Harbor, property owners got a discouraging response from the County Commissioners, who said last week that the empty lots in Snug Harbor would have to wait for “another day.”

The 53 existing houses in Snug Harbor are in the final stages of hooking up to the Assateage Pointe wastewater treatment system after a years-long saga seeking funding and capacity.

The 13 homes not yet attached to the sewer pipe must do so by the end of the month, county officials say. Their septic system permits are no longer valid with the arrival of public sewer.

Snug Harbor’s empty lots were never part of the sewer service equation.

“It never involved vacant lots. It was always about the houses that were built there,” said Commissioner Louise Gulyas. “That was a battle for another day.”

That day has not yet arrived, the commissioners concluded, citing lack of capacity and disposal options.

The Assateague Pointe treatment plant handling the new Snug Harbor hook-ups has no more capacity, said Ed Tudor, director of Development Review and Permitting for Worcester County.

Gulyas suggested looking to the Landings development for sewer service to those properties. “I know they’re not built out yet,” she said.

All the capacity at The Landings is committed, John Ross, deputy director of Public Works, said.

The experimental system at The Landings is reviewed every additional 30,000 gallons per day, said Bob Mitchell, director of Environmental Programs.

According to Worcester County attorney Ed Hammond, that system is subject to a phased-in permit, and could be cut-off by Maryland Department of the Environment at any phase.

Snug Harbor dwellers have said that the Assateague Pointe system can be tweaked to get more capacity, according to Gulyas. “I’m not sure about that,” she said.

“Today we have no additional capacity at Snug Harbor,” said director of Public Works John Tustin.

Ross said it’s not a matter of a handful of lots. “It’s not one or two. It’s going to be 24 or 25,” Ross said.

Commissioner Bud Church, who represents Snug Harbor, said the small size of the lots meant two properties might be used for one dwelling in several instances, reducing the 24 to perhaps 18.

“It’s still a significant number. It’s not a number that’s lost in the contingency,” Ross said. “We’d be increasing the number by more than 10 percent of what’s out there.”

Tudor said, “Even if we could work out the capacity, how would we dispose of it?”

Adding to Assateague Pointe’s wastewater treatment system is not financially feasible, according to Mitchell.

“That’s an exorbitant amount of cost to upgrade that system,” Mitchell said.

Snug Harbor is not eligible for federal or state grant funds, which are targeted to low- and moderate-income communities. The sewer hook-ups for the existing Snug Harbor homes, at roughly $13,000, were funded out of a low, 1.6-percent interest state loan from the Maryland Department of the Environment.

The owners of the existing Snug Harbor houses spent years looking for alternatives to their failing septic systems, which were leaking into the community’s canal and thus the coastal bays.       

Snug Harbor also lies in a flood plain, and the unserved empty lots are in the V zone, areas subject to storm overwash.  Building in flood plains is discouraged.

Church contended that the unserved V zone lots, considered more vulnerable to storm flooding, would not be more at risk than the other Snug Harbor lots in a strong storm.

In the event of a Category 3 hurricane or worse, Church said, “There isn’t going to be one nail difference between the V zone houses and the end of the street.”

The new homes that would be built under the new FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) regulations would be safer than the older homes in Snug Harbor, Church said.

Empty lot owners feel as if their property has been condemned by legislation, Church said.

“I’m concerned about the other residents who are paying taxes down there. Some of them have owned their property since the ‘50s,” he said.

The community was originally developed in 1953, one of the first waterfront neighborhoods in the county, with the last homes built in the 1970s.

“I don’t know what the answer is. I guess central sewer is the answer,” Gulyas said.

Commissioner Virgil Shockley said the lots would have to wait their turn to be addressed.

“We need to take a look at what we have out there,” said Shockley. “You’ve got to solve one problem before you start another problem.”

All the sewer systems in north Worcester County must be considered in light of capacity available and properties to be served, he said.

“Let’s finish one thing at a time and then we’ll come back and look at the 24 lots,” Gulyas said.