County Prefers Current Site For New Plant

SNOW HILL – The new Mystic Harbor wastewater plant will be built on the current site, the Worcester County Commissioners decided this week after hearing from staff on an alternate site nearby.

The unimproved parcel west of the current Mystic Harbor sewer plant that was proposed as an alternate site for the new facility is made up of wetlands and forest, Public Works Director John Tustin informed the commissioners Tuesday.

The county would have to spend at least $420,000 over and above the purchase price to make the land usable, Tustin said.

There is no road access to the site, only an unimproved drive, according to Tustin. Adding a 600-foot long access road would cost $120,000.

A pipe conveying the untreated effluent under Route 611 from the existing force main at Mystic Harbor Pump Station A would need 2,500 feet of pipe, costing $155,000. A large pipe to carry treated effluent to existing disposal facilities, 2,800 feet long, would cost $145,000.

The parcel is quite wet and heavily wooded, which would create environmental hurdles such as wetland disturbance and the need for re-forestation, according to a memorandum by Deputy Public Works Director John Ross.

Permits to use the site could take some time to get, up to two years, Tustin said.

Given the location of the wetlands, the sewer treatment plant could only be placed on the north side of the property, closely adjacent to Whispering Woods subdivision, which could cause issues with the residents that the county would like to avoid.

The purchase of the property would also take too much time, Tustin felt, including appraisals, environmental assessments and purchase negotiations.

Site design for a new wastewater facility on the alternate site could not begin until the purchase was complete, Tustin said.

“With those issues in mind, I think it’s really important to stay on [the current] property,” Tustin said.

The existing plant, built in 1974, sits on land already owned by Worcester County. There is enough land at the site to build the new plant next to the old one, which would continue to process sewage while construction goes on next door.

The plant property is already connected to force mains and disposal mechanisms and has the necessary utilities on site, according to Ross.

There is enough space on that land to add a future effluent holding facility or infiltration pond to dispose of treated sewage.

The current plant is also close to the West Ocean City sewer system, which could allow an emergency connection to be built between the two systems.

The new wastewater treatment plant would be constructed to minimize odors, a problem long noted by neighborhood residents, by putting the machinery inside a building.

“The technology is well above the 1974 plant that currently sits there,” Tustin said.

“If you could purchase that property then sell the property where the current plant is there might be some substantial savings there that could pay for the improvements to the site,” Commissioner Bud Church said Tuesday afternoon.

While the sale of the current site, located in an area becoming increasingly commercialized, could offset costs of a new plant location, there are too many issues with the alternative, Ross concluded.    

Church suggested to staff at the last commissioner meeting in March that alternative sites existed. Though he said last month that he had more than one alternate site in mind, the staff only considered one.

“I thought it would be a win-win for you,” Church said.

The Mystic Harbor Advisory Board supports the original approach, Tustin said.

Once the new wastewater treatment plant is built and the old plant demolished, more disposal area could open up, Tustin told the commissioners.

That would open up additional capacity.

The commissioners voted unanimously to pursue a higher capacity at the new Mystic Harbor wastewater treatment plant, increasing daily capacity from 300,000 gallons per day (gpd) to 400,000 gpd.

Additional capacity will reduce the cost to current ratepayers of the new plant and the improvements to disposal methods as well. Some capacity will be used to remove old and failing septic tanks from the neighborhood.

Staff will now pursue a preliminary design for the new wastewater treatment plant. The work should cost $173,000, Tustin said. Money for the work is available in the reserve fund.

Final design will cost another $500,000, Tustin said.

Those costs will be paid back into the reserves when the project bond is issued.

Bids for construction could go out by early 2009.

“You have a green light. Let’s hope you don’t run into a red light,” Commission President Virgil Shockley said.