Priority List Eyed For New West OC Sewer Service Area

SNOW HILL – A sewer capacity free-for-all could result from new EDUs added to the well-populated and in demand Mystic Harbor sewer service area, county planning officials fear.

The Mystic Harbor Wastewater Plant has deteriorated since its construction in 1974 and must be replaced, adding 667 EDUs, Worcester County has concluded.

The Worcester County Planning Commission expressed concern last week that the additional EDUs would be snapped up by new development, rather than existing businesses and homes, prompting a call for a prioritized policy on the distribution of the new sewer capacity.

“A lot of customers in the area are buying water and they’d like septic,” said Worcester County Environmental Programs Director Bob Mitchell.

Planning Commission Vice President Brooks Clayville said there needs to be a priority list for the allocation.

“Somehow we have to prioritize how that’s going to be used,” said Clayville. “Those EDUs are going to be in demand sooner or later.”

As it stands currently, the Planning Commission has limited influence on EDU allocation.

“You could recommend an allocation policy be established for this additional capacity,” said Comprehensive Planning Director Sandy Coyman.

Without a priority list, anyone could apply for sewer service, county attorney Sonny Bloxom said.

Planning Commission member Jeanne Lynch suggested weighting infill development higher than new development.

Restaurants will also want to add more sewer capacity, said Mitchell, because the indoor smoking ban has prompted many local eating establishments to look into outdoor seating to accommodate customers who wish to smoke.

An allocation plan would give county staff a better planning tool, Mitchell said.

The commission came to a consensus to recommend a priority policy to the County Commissioners giving infill development first crack at new sewer service, followed by existing commercial ventures and failing septic systems.

The Planning Commission also gave a favorable recommendation to a Water and Sewer Plan amendment allowing the new, higher capacity Mystic Harbor plant.

The existing 24-year old plant cannot handle all the capacity assigned to it due to pervasive deterioration.

“Unfortunately, it’s in somewhat poor condition and has received a few violations which is why we want to replace it,” said staffer Christine Holman.

Public Works Deputy Director John Ross expanded on that, saying, “It is not up to its designed treatment capacity. It’s just structurally, physically, and mechanically in bad shape.”

“This is obviously a very critical need,” said Planning Commission member Betty Smith.

The plans to replace the wastewater plant also include plans to switch treated effluent disposal to spray irrigation.

Locating and purchasing spray land could take some time, however.

“It’s difficult to find spray area in that part of the county,” Ross said.

The new wastewater plant would become more environmentally friendly through enhanced nutrient removal standards and through taking some septic systems out of the mix.

At the moment, the plant cannot always meet its state-assigned nutrient limits.

“That plant produces a pretty good effluent, but it’s pretty unreliable,” said Ross.

The Mystic Harbor plant currently uses injection wells to disperse some of its treated effluent into the ground, but the practice has been inconsistent.

“In the interim, it will continue to use the wells until we find something,” Ross said.

According to Ross, the injection wells have been modified to work better.

“Our goal is to get off the injection wells,” he confirmed.

New sewer customers will have to wait, even when new capacity is available, if the injection wells cannot handle the increased effluent. Additional customers will only come on line when the new spray irrigation fields are added to the Mystic Harbor wastewater system.

There could be some resistance over hooking up to the new wastewater plant from septic system users. Under Maryland law, septic system properties must connect to public sewer when it becomes available.

A public sewer connection can be costly to the property owner, with some hook-up rates reaching $11,000, although that cost can be defrayed through low-interest state loans or grants.

Failed septic systems in particular would be candidates for public sewer service.

The Planning Commission voted to send the amendment on to the County Commissioners with a favorable recommendation, finding that the new plant is consistent with the Worcester County Comprehensive Plan.