Berlin Told Expanding Existing Sewer Plant Is Best

BERLIN – One sewer plant or two, that is the question in Berlin this week.

Observers at Monday’s Berlin Mayor and Council meeting were startled that a presentation by town wastewater consultant URS recommended expansion of the current wastewater treatment plant as the least expensive option.

However, the two-plant scheme proposed by developer Troy Purnell and agreed to by the town last spring will still be considered by the County Commissioners next week.

That agreement was the first change in what is becoming a confusing dance back and forth between options. At the time the two-plant agreement was reached last spring, Berlin already had a single plant expansion plan in front of the county, but decided to abandon that approach to pursue the two plants.

Now the specter of another change has been raised.

“We’re still going before the county with the wastewater amendment plans,” Berlin Mayor Tom Cardinale said this week.

Monday’s presentation was just a financial analysis, he said.

The mayor did not rule out a reversal of the two-plant project, however.

“When it all shakes out, then we have to make a decision,” Cardinale said. “There’s so many loose nuts and bolts out there we don’t know which way is best to go.”

The memorandum of understanding with Berlin Properties North, Purnell’s company, is not binding, Cardinale said.

The mayor seemed philosophical over the back and forth plans. The wastewater expansion “was on the table five years before I got here. It’s been on the table the three years I’ve been here,” Cardinale said.

At the Monday night council meeting, Mark Prouty of URS strongly recommended going back to the existing plant expansion.

“We found that the most cost effective and lowest risk solution for the town of Berlin to move forward is a single treatment plant constructed at your current site,” Prouty said.

Existing customers will see an 8-percent rise in their wastewater rates just to handle the upgrade for current needs.

“If not one more house is built, the wastewater plant still has to be upgraded,” Cardinale said. “The public is not paying for growth.”

The expansion of the current plant to meet existing needs would cost $10.3 million with the cost rising to $12 million if stream discharge is abandoned in favor of adding spray irrigation land.

If the town moves to the two plants, using all spray irrigation, to handle one million gallons per day (MGD), the total capital cost would be $28.7 million, more than double the basic expansion. This scenario would have some new connections paying a higher connection fee.

Fees would go up for new connections with the more costly alternatives. Right now, the special connection fee is $8,000 per EDU, but it could go up to as much as $30,000 under some scenarios.

Cardinale suggested a graduated fee schedule dependent on when the property owner pays into the system. Council Vice President Gee Williams suggested banking the fees to reduce the bond amount. An alternative must be finalized before fee schedules are determined.

If the current plant is only upgraded, it could be expanded to varying capacities, and would be designed to accommodate later expansion. The plant handles half a million gallons per day (mgd) now and the upgrade would increase that to .6 mgd. The next logical steps over the next few decades would be .75 mgd, 1 mgd, then 1.4 mgd.

“It is not an entire build out of everything that would probably take you to the next phase of construction, the 1 mgd range,” said Prouty.

“We don’t want to do this in five years and turn around and do it again,” said Williams.

“You could wind up with a wastewater treatment plant which needs to be upgraded again in four to five years,” Cardinale agreed.

Wastewater treatment equipment is made in standard sizes, Prouty said, so the town would have to expand in those increments.

“When you build treatment plants, you build them in certain sizes. You build them off the shelf,” he said.

Another 250,000 gallons a day capacity would allow the addition of 1,000 EDUs over the next decade, Williams said.

Whatever the town does, it must submit a work schedule to the Maryland Department of the Environment, required by a consent order. According to Prouty, the bidding and building process could take as little as a year or 14 months.

The single plant scenario has its pluses, according to Williams.

“It reduces the risk to the town of Berlin and our ratepayers in terms of not biting off more than we can chew at one time,” Williams said.

Meanwhile, the two-plant alternative is still on the table with the county. The commissioners will consider the proposal at their Dec. 4 meeting. The council chose to leave the application as is and not modify it yet based on Prouty’s report.

“We just don’t want to go before the commissioners and muddy up the waters,” Cardinale said.