Pines Customers Could Lose Flush Tax Exemption

SNOW HILL – The exemption from the flush tax may end for Ocean Pines wastewater customers this year, after a mechanical problem slightly skewed nitrogen numbers for 2007.

The Ocean Pines wastewater plant is the only wastewater treatment facility in Maryland exempt from paying the $2.50 per month flush tax into the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund because of the high quality of treated and discharged effluent.

The county learned that the service area would no longer be exempt in mid-February. The letter from the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) reads, “We have carefully reviewed your submitted documents and found that your facility is no longer meeting the requirements to be exempt from paying the Bay Restoration Fund (BRF) fee.”

Worcester County Public Works Director John Tustin told the County Commissioners this week, “It’s not good news.”

In February 2007, a mechanical breakdown combined with the cold weather to release more nitrogen than expected from the Ocean Pines’ plant discharge point into the St. Martin River.

“Our nitrogen limits skyrocketed,” said Tustin.

Nitrogen levels reached 8.75 mg/l (milligrams per liter), compared to 2.9 mg/l in February 2008.

To be exempt from the flush tax, the service area must post an annual average of no more than 3 mg/l.

With the February 2007 spike in nitrogen levels, the annual average slightly exceeded the nitrogen limit. Phosphorous levels remain under the acceptable limit.

Tustin suggested an appeal letter be written to MDE explaining the higher level. There is no formal appeal process.

“We ought to go to MDE. This is bragging rights. Ocean Pines has the best plant in the state,” said Commissioner Judy Boggs, whose district lies entirely within southern Ocean Pines. “I would hate to lose this just because we had those two unfortunate circumstances.”

Commissioner Louise Gulyas asked staff to copy the appeal letter to Delegates Norm Conway and Jim Mathias and Senator Lowell Stoltzfus.

Boggs suggested asking the shore delegation directly for help, but county attorney Sonny Bloxom said he did not think a separate letter was necessary. Copying the letter to their attention would be enough, he said.

If the appeal is not successful, the service area must show a calendar year’s worth of data confirming an average nitrogen level of 3 mg/l or less before regaining the exemption.