Questions Raised About Project’s Early Phases

SNOW HILL – Questions are surrounding the Summerfield project in Snow Hill this week with developer Mark Odachowski apparently preparing to ask the town to let him postpone building the promised wastewater treatment plant, but to allow him to go ahead and build 300 homes.

Speaking at a hearing on the water and sewer plan amendment allowing the Summerfield development to use spray irrigation, Harold Scrimgeous, a former County Commissioner candidate, questioned what’s happening with the project.

“Seems kind of weird he’s pulling back the bond and not building the sewer plant and still building 300 homes,” said Scrimgeour.

Neither Odachoski, his attorney, Hugh Cropper, nor officials from Snow Hill were available for comment on Wednesday.

At the public hearing Tuesday, Cropper did say that the annexation agreement has been changed as the project moved forward.

According to Cropper, the work to get the proposed spray field approved will take a year or more, with wet season testing and permits still to come.

“We can’t bond that project till we know what it is,” Cropper said.

The plan is to move forward with the first 300 houses while the spray fields are tested.

Snow Hill has agreed to loan Odachowski 300 EDUs for the first phase of construction, Cropper said. If the town had not been willing to do that, the project would have been put on hold.

Scrimgeour, who has gone through the spray irrigation permit process himself, said there would need to be one full year of groundwater monitoring at the site, in addition to the other work, and that it would be at best take two years before the site could be used.

The new wastewater treatment plant promised by Odachowski to replace an aging plant, which releases a lot of nutrients into local waterways, is meant to handle all the town’s effluent, not just Summerfield’s 2,000 houses. The effluent would be treated to a very high standard and improve the Pocomoke River’s water quality.

The project is not going to be limited to spray irrigation effluent discharge. Plans call for 56 percent of the treated discharge (667,000 gallons per day) to go straight into the Pocomoke River. The other 44 percent (533,000 gallons per day) would be routed north of town to the spray site on Timmons Rd.

The 300 houses in the first phase will add 75,000 gallons per day to the old plant’s flow if Odachowski goes ahead before building the new plant.

The County Commissioners approved the spray irrigation concept for the county water and sewer plan Tuesday, deciding that they could not hold up the approval to find out more about the sewer plant situation, which is Snow Hill’s responsibility.

“That’s outside our purview, I think,” said county attorney Ed Hammond. “That’s a town function.”

The county officials’ role Tuesday was to determine whether the amendment to the plan was consistent with the county’s comprehensive plan.

The commissioners praised the state-of-the-art wastewater treatment plant planned by the developer.

“Finally getting the river clean is a very, very good thing,” said Commissioner Louise Gulyas.

Some speakers at the public hearing were not so sure of the spray irrigation approach. Charles Waite of Timmons Rd., said he had concerns that the pond and branch on his family’s farm was too close to the spray site and could be contaminated.

“The answer is no. That’s why you have buffers,” said Sandy Coyman, county director of comprehensive planning. “The notion it would be applied to the land and run off is incorrect.”

Waite was also skeptical of Cropper’s characterization of the treated effluent as being cleaner than drinking water.

“I would challenge people to have a glass with dinner if they actually believe that,” he said.

Spray site neighbor Myrtle Martin asked, “Will we have the right to bring in independent people to do the testing every so often to make sure the reports are truthful?”

Hammond answered, “Unless it is a condition of the permit, I don’t think so. The Maryland Department of the Environment is your policeman.”

Independent labs would test water samples to make sure the effluent is not making it off the property, director of environmental programs Bob Mitchell said.

“So you’re saying there’s never been anything that got by them?” Martin asked. “We want to make sure our wells are going to be safeguarded.”

Hammond said, “You need to get the permit conditioned on that when it’s issued.”

Commissioner Bud Church advised Martin and neighboring property owners to get their wells checked now to provide a baseline when they have their wells tested once the spray site becomes active.