County Seeks New Sewer Plant Site

SNOW HILL – The planned new Mystic Harbour sewer plant may not be built on the same site as the existing facility, with the Worcester County Commissioners directing staff this week to explore an alternate site before planning proceeded further.

“I do have a concern of building the plant at the same location,” said Commissioner Bud Church. “I’d like you to broaden your horizons a bit.”

The plan has been to build a new plant next to the existing plant, allowing the old facility to handle wastewater during construction.

“From a community perspective, any time you change the location of a sewerage treatment plant, you’re in for a lot of trouble,” said Commissioner Judy Boggs. “It’s a ‘not in my backyard’ type of thing.”

Church suggested there are properties in the area that would not be a problem for neighbors. He later said it would be premature to identify those sites he had in mind.

The commissioners voted to have staffers explore other sites for the new wastewater facility. Just the new wastewater plant could cost over $6 million.

“The $6 million we are talking about have not addressed the disposal issue if we decide to switch to spray irrigation or some other method of effluent disposal,” said John Ross, deputy director of public works.

Those issues will be resolved after the plant location is determined. “The issue of disposal, we have to address that at a later date,” said county chief administrator Gerry Mason. The Worcester County Comprehensive Plan calls for treated wastewater to be disposed via land application.

The cost of the new wastewater treatment plant will hit current customers harder, Ross said. The customer base for Mystic Harbour wastewater is relatively small, at roughly 1,000 customers.

To pay for the new plant, service area wastewater customers would pay over $600 a year, $150 a quarter, to cover debt payments.

Ross hopes to get funding through the Maryland Revolving Loan Fund, which would reduce the cost to consumers to about $420 a year, or $105 a quarter.

There are other funding sources that might defray the costs of the new plant. Loan funding from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), with a term of 30 to 40 years, and interest rates similar to county bond rates, could be used. Grant funds are also available to reduce very high consumer costs, but are very hard to get.

The Maryland Department of the Environment provides some grant funds to offset borrowing, but a project must have a strong need for the money. The grants are very competitive.

In a memorandum to Mason, Ross concluded that the Mystic Harbour sewer and water rates could reach $900 with the new sewer plant, fulfilling the requirements for some grant funding.

The county could also build more capacity into the new plant, and offer service to infill development in the area to offset building costs. The sale of EDUs from additional capacity could raise $3 million to $5 million, according to Ross.

While this raises concerns over fulfilling the limited development envisioned by the comprehensive plan, Ross suggested that Ocean City Airport and infill development allowed by the comprehensive plan could consume 300 to 400 more EDUs.

The West Ocean City Service Area, handling 1 million gallons per day of sewage, which is pumped to the Ocean City wastewater facility, could buy into the new Mystic Harbour plant for some capacity.

County staffers have concluded the plant must be replaced.

“I don’t think there is an option with Mystic Harbour,” said Church.        

Any plant replacement will likely be far down the road. “We’re a long way away. This is kind of the first step. We don’t want to get too far ahead of you,” Mason said to the commissioners.