Developer Says Property’s Future Uncertain After County Vote

BERLIN – The murky question of one Berlin wastewater plant or two has been cleared up, leaving town staff and elected officials ready to move on with the project with a clear goal in mind, while the developer involved in the proposal must find a new direction.

“The County Commissioners have spoken,” Berlin Mayor Tom Cardinale said. “It’s time for Berlin to get the job done and move on.”

The imposition of the one plant scenario by the County Commissioners means that Berlin staffers are now certain of the town’s direction and can get down to substantive work towards the improved and expanded wastewater plant, said Berlin Administrative Director Linda Bambary.

“We have got to get started now and do what we have to do to take care of the town’s wastewater situation,” Cardinale said. “We’ve been given the roadmap. We’ve been given the guidelines.”

Troy Purnell of Berlin Properties North (BPN), owner of the Tyson chicken plant site on Old Ocean City Blvd., is now wondering just what he has to do to get the site developed. His plans call for a mixed-use development to replace the plant. In an attempt to get the sewer capacity he needs to build those residences and commercial spaces, Purnell offered to construct and partially fund a second plant on the site which would take care of the town’s expansion needs as well.

“I’m still not sure what happened,” said Purnell two days after the vote. “We’re still looking at exactly what this means to Berlin Properties North.”

Purnell fears that the county’s restriction of the capacity expansion to 750,000 gallons per day will prevent him from getting the sewer capacity for the first phase of Purnell Crossing.

Although the expansion will provide an additional 600 EDUs, Purnell needs 150 EDUs for the first phase of Purnell Crossing and a total of 500 for the entire project.

The town actually has about 500 EDUs of unused capacity, assigned to unbuilt lots, Bambary said, which pay a ready-to-serve fee every month. If the town could free those up, there would be more flexibility in assigning that service on a limited basis.

“We’re working on how the new capacity will be managed,” Bambary said.

The town will put together a capacity plan now that staff knows what it has to work with. As previously discussed by the council, the town will likely set a certain number of residential hook-ups per year. “It’s just a matter of how to divvy it out,” Bambary said.

Annexation into the town may be more remote for the Tyson property now that the second plant is out of contention, although the property is included in the county-assigned growth area and the S-1 area, for sewer service as soon as possible.

Although the memorandum of understanding between BPN and Berlin on the second plant and annexation into the town limits is no longer valid, Purnell still plans to pursue inclusion in town borders.

“My desire is to work with the town any way possible and cooperate with them to be annexed into the town and begin at least the first phase of the project,” Purnell said. “I honestly think that’s everyone’s goal.”

While the plant improvements are underway, within five years the town must add enough spray irrigation capability to handle the expanded wastewater flows.

“I think we can live with five years,” said Bambary of the county’s new time limit for total spray irrigation.

“What we have control over is building that plant,” Bambary said.

Berlin cannot control local property owners and whether or not they desire to sell or lease land for spray irrigation. The town also can’t control the required public process, which could bring a lot of people out to protest spray fields in their neighborhood.

“If we find a property owner and the soils test out, yes, we could do five years,” Bambary said.

Finishing in five years is a best-case scenario, she said.

“Is it an achievable goal? Yes. Is it going to take a lot of work? Absolutely,” Cardinale said.

If the town runs into difficulty, despite doing their due diligence to make progress on the added spray irrigation land, Bambary feels the County Commissioners will take that into account when the town reports back in 2 1/2 years.

“We have time to go back and say, we are doing our due diligence,” Cardinale said. “I don’t see them saying, you’re not there. Goodbye.”

Working on the single plant will be quicker, Bambary felt, without a second party involved, and could reap further financial benefits than simply the cost difference between the two scenarios.

“Because it’s an existing plant we’re upgrading, it appears we’re eligible for some grants,” Bambary said.

The town is under a consent order to upgrade the wastewater treatment facility. The improved and expanded plant could be online as soon as fall 2010.

“We don’t need to do the whole thing tomorrow. We just want to have a long-term plan to get started,” Purnell said.