OP Dodges Flush Tax Bullet

SNOW HILL- Ocean Pines wastewater customers will not pay the flush tax this year, the state has said, since higher nitrogen levels last winter could not be controlled by technology.

“I’m glad the state realized there’s not technology available to process effluent at such extremely low temperatures,” said Worcester County Commissioner Judy Boggs.

Earlier this winter, Worcester County learned high nitrogen levels in the extremely cold February and March of 2007 had skewed the annual nitrogen levels at the Ocean Pines Wastewater Plant, edging the annual number above the cut-off for exemption from flush fee.

To be exempt, a wastewater treatment plant must keep total nitrogen below 3 milligrams per liter (mg/l), and .3 milligrams of phosphorous per liter. The low temperatures in February and March 2007 caused Ocean Pines wastewater plant effluent nitrogen levels of 8.75 mg/l in February and 5.76 mg/l in March, which edged the annual nitrogen average level over 3 mg/l.

This month, the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) reversed its decision to start charging Ocean Pines wastewater customers the flush tax after Worcester County explained the circumstances of the higher nitrogen levels.

Wastewater treatment technology cannot effectively treat effluent at temperatures less than 12 degrees Fahrenheit.

MDE took the high nitrogen level from February 2007 out of the nitrogen equation, which then yielded an average nitrogen level below the cut-off amount.

With no flush tax on their bills, Ocean Pines wastewater customers will save as much as $240,000 this year. Ocean Pines sewer customers have not paid the $2.50 per month flush tax since its inception three years ago. Bay Restoration Fund dollars are used to reduce nutrient pollution in the Chesapeake Bay and in Worcester County’s Atlantic Coastal Bays.

The Ocean Pines plant is the only public sewer facility in Maryland not subject to the flush tax.

“I’m just delighted Ocean Pines will still have bragging rights,” said Boggs. “It’s always been the best plant in the state for many, many years.”

Worcester County Commission president Virgil Shockley agreed. “This is a shining example of teamwork by the state and county to recognize the commitment demonstrated by the design and operation of the Ocean Pines Wastewater Treatment Plant to ensure the protection and preservation of our local environment and specifically our coastal bays,” he said.