New Showell Homes’ Water Quality Impact Debated

SNOW HILL – New subdivisions in Showell could have a negative impact on local water quality, a local environmental activist warned at the August Worcester County Planning Commission meeting last week.

The impact of another 43 homes and septic systems, near waterways in Showell on local water quality is unclear, others said.

Shingle Landing Prong, which runs partly through the Holland Point Farm subdivision, is a tributary of the St. Martin River, and both waterways are on the state of Maryland’s impaired waters list.

The Comprehensive Plan commits Worcester County to addressing Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs), a state limit on how much pollution a waterway can handle.

“We haven’t completed that yet,” said Sandy Coyman, director of comprehensive planning for Worcester County. “We’re just not there yet.”

According to Coastkeeper Kathy Phillips of Assateague Coastal Trust, the TMDLs set by the state do not take new housing into account.

Mark Cropper, a land use attorney representing the Holland Point Farm developer, objected to Phillips’ comments during the meeting as inappropriate.

“This is not a public hearing,” Cropper said.

Planning Commission Chair Carolyn Cummins replied that the commission customarily lets people with questions or comments speak from the audience.

Chris McCabe, natural resource director for Worcester County, said he did not know if the new subdivision, which would take agricultural fields out of production, would improve or impair local water quality.

Taking the property out of crops would reduce sediment run-off, Zoning Coordinator Kelly Henry said.

Overall run-off increases when homes take the place of farm fields, with the homes adding impervious surface through buildings and roads, which does not absorb rain like dirt does.

At the Planning Commission meeting, Phillips asked if the county comprehensive planning department had been consulted over the TMDL impact on Shingle Landing Prong and the St. Martin River.

She pointed out that the Holland Point Farm subdivision of 43 houses is directly adjacent to the future Mapleton Farm 126-home subdivision. That means 169 additional septic tanks near Shingle Landing Prong.

“The state is requiring Worcester County to meet certain TMDLs in the very near future here,” Phillips said.

Septic systems discharge much higher levels of nutrients into local waterways and groundwater than effluent treated at wastewater treatment plants.

“I do not understand why we can’t make them comply with what the comprehensive plan asks for. They should not be on septic. It should be on public sewer,” said Cummins.

“It’d be great if there was a public wastewater facility to serve these properties,” Cropper said.

There is no public sewer to connect the new houses to, Bob Mitchell, director of environmental programs for Worcester County, confirmed.

Mitchell pointed out that a one million gallon per day wastewater plant had been eliminated from the watershed when the Perdue poultry plant in Showell closed down.

The impact of 169 new houses, “is dwarfed by the agricultural run-off and impacts in the watershed,” said Mitchell.

The Planning Commission voted 6-1 to approve the preliminary plat with Cummins casting the dissenting vote.