SNOW HILL – Berlin must stick with one sewer plant and discharge into the stream as little as possible until spray irrigation fields for the new capacity are online, with five years to reach total spray discharge, the County Commissioners decided in the first test of their environmental fortitude since the 2006 election.
“Leadership is saying we must prioritize our bays, our watersheds, our streams, the life blood of this county,” said Commissioner Judy Boggs, who called on her fellow commissioners to lead the way and keep discharge to local streams to a minimum. “With the 10-year time frame and allowing this to happen we are not showing leadership.”
Boggs referred to recent reports that the Chesapeake Bay is in poor health despite lengthy efforts to improve water quality. “Chesapeake Bay has had millions of dollars spent on it in 30 years and it still is at the same point,” she said.
Commissioner Linda Busick was on the same page as Boggs.
“The 10-year time frame is in my opinion far too long,” said Busick. “The most important duty I have is ensuring our environment is protected.”
Commissioner Louise Gulyas was clear with her desire. “We have to make sure they have spray irrigation. That’s the only way,” said Gulyas.
Commissioner Virgil Shockley said the county must hold to their campaign promises last year. “All of us basically ran on the commitment that [county waters] mean a lot to us,” said Shockley.
Effluent disposal by spray irrigation is a major goal of the Worcester County comprehensive plan passed in March 2006, and the commissioners’ decision on the Berlin sewer proposal was widely seen as a test case for the commissioners’ commitment to getting effluent out of local waters.
This is the first major change in sewer service in Worcester County since the new comprehensive plan was approved, according to Comprehensive Planning Director Sandy Coyman.
The commissioners dismissed the dual plant plan and enshrined the upgrade and expansion of the existing single plant in the plan amendment, citing recommendations from the Worcester County Planning Commission and the Maryland Department of the Environment that found the single plant more consistent with the comprehensive plan and more cost effective.
Commissioner Bobby Cowger, the only commissioner to vote against the five-year deadline and single plant motion, questioned the changes, saying they might not fit with the town’s plans and that the commissioners are not qualified to make that decision, unlike the planning commission. “We’ve got the experts telling us how this plan should go,” he said.
Shockley reminded Cowger that the planning commission and MDE both endorsed the single, lower-capacity plant.
The five-year deadline versus the 10-year plan will ensure that the town gets started quickly on the work.
“That’ll get everybody moving instead of everyone standing around with their hands in their pockets,” Gulyas said.
With the stream discharge at the Tyson plant eliminated and less time allowed to reach the total spray irrigation goal, the addition of nutrients to the watershed will be minimized, as opponents of the two-plant proposal wished.
The state’s total maximum daily load (TMDL) limits on the Newport Bay watershed, which includes the creeks in Berlin, will be difficult to meet.
The county must take every measure, and do it perfectly, to reach the TMDL, Coyman explained earlier this month.
“We must move the point discharge in the watershed to spray irrigation or some form of land discharge that does not add nutrients to the watershed,” he said. “If there’s any hope for us to meet the TMDL the point sources need to go to spray irrigation.”
The current wastewater facility must also be upgraded to the enhanced nutrient removal standards. “They’re under the gun. They have to do something within a timely period,” Coyman said.
Berlin must come back to the county in September 2010 to report on its progress.
“I want this group of commissioners to look at this before we leave office,” said Shockley. “That gives them a deadline. That gives them a benchmark.”
According to Coyman, the much shorter deadline can be met. “Five years seems like a workable number,” he told the commissioners.
The soil testing and state permitting process for spray irrigation land after the property is leased or purchased can take several years, with Coyman estimating that with land in hand, it would be four years before one drop of treated wastewater could be sprayed.
“The town of Berlin has to get out there and do their due diligence and find that land,” Gulyas said.
It will take a year to 18 months to convert the plant, which could mean stream discharging until the added spray fields are on line. Berlin currently handles about 400,000 gallons every day, which can be sprayed on the current spray fields nine months of the year. The rest of the time, effluent is stored in a huge lagoon, and only discharged if necessary.
“You can build a treatment plant faster than the testing and permitting it goes through for spray irrigation,” Coyman said. “They’re going to need to do some discharge.”
Shockley added, “I do have a problem with it but they’re in a bind,” Shockley said.
Busick questioned the apparent lack of spray land.
“There’s land available for development. There’s never land available for spray irrigation,” she said.