BERLIN – Calling it the answer to the town’s sewage disposal problem for this generation and the next, Berlin Mayor Gee Williams on Monday announced the town had reached an agreement in principle to purchase a 200-acre property off Route 113 just south of the town for the new spray irrigation effluent disposal site.
Williams announced at the end of a fairly long meeting on Monday the town had reached an agreement to purchase the roughly 200-acre tract on Five Mile Branch Rd. along Route 113 just south of Berlin, which will be used for the new spray irrigation plant. Berlin has agreed to purchase the property for around $1.2 million, but the finalization of the sale is contingent on Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) testing of the soil on the property to ensure it is suitable for spray irrigation.
Spray irrigation has long been a favored method of disbursing treated wastewater in Worcester and Berlin has been on the cutting edge of the fairly recent concept in the county and across the state. However, as the town has grown over the years, finding suitable land for spray irrigation has become increasingly difficult. On top of that, Berlin has been inching ever closer to reaching its sewer capacity, necessitating an accelerated search for land suitable for spray irrigation in recent years.
Possible locations have been identified, but their close proximity to residential areas has been problematic. Over the last year or so, Berlin has asked the county to reduce the size of the setbacks for spray irrigation sites from residential areas, but the task has been slow and arduous.
However, that has all likely changed with the agreement in principle to purchase the 200-acre site in a rural area just south of town, which was reached last Friday. If approved by MDE, the purchase of the property should ease the sewage disposal headache from the town for years to come, according to Williams.
“Needless to say, we are very pleased with the agreement to purchase this property,” he said. “This will allow us to meet our spray irrigation needs for the next generation and the one after that. We will no longer have to go around piece-meal looking for sites for our spray irrigation.”
Berlin is currently in the process of expanding its wastewater treatment disposal permit to meet the growing needs of the town. When capacity nears the 80-percent mark, the town is forced to show the state it has started planning for a future expansion, and the purchase of the 200-acre site is expected to meet the demand, not only for the current expansion, but for future expansions as well.
“For this upgrade and future upgrades, this land purchase ought to take care of our needs,” said Williams. “We can take this off our list of concerns.”
Spray irrigation is the favored method of sewage disposal because, as the name implies, it sprays treated wastewater, almost drinking water quality in some cases, over large tracts of land where it is slowly absorbed and dispersed. From an environmental standpoint, it is far more favorable than direct discharge of treated sewage into creeks and streams in the area, a practice Berlin sometimes has to do during times of peak usage.
“We will be able to stop any and all direct discharge,” said Williams. “We will never have to discharge into the Maryland coastal bays or their tributaries and creeks ever again.”
Williams explained the $1.2 million covers the purchase price for the land, but there will still be expenses related to connecting the pipes and other system construction costs. However, the $1.2 million for the land purchase will be covered by connection fees, ready-to-serve fees and other hook-up fees the town has been collecting for years.
“For this part of the package, this will be paid for with fees we’ve already collected,” he said. “Those fees weren’t always popular, but they worked. If you escrow the money, it’s there when you need it. That’s what we’ve been doing and it has worked.”
As far as funding the construction phase and other expenses related to the project, Williams said there could be state funding available if MDE signs off on the land purchase.
“This is an extremely important step in meeting the consent order the state of Maryland enacted,” he said. “The state has recognized we were doing everything possible to meet the consent order and there might be some funding available to help us complete this. We should know what level of state funding is available by mid-June.”
Other town officials praised the potential land purchase and its implications for Berlin’s ability to handle its wastewater disposal needs. For example, Councilmember Lisa Hall said Berlin set an example for other communities in Worcester and around the state struggling with sewage capacity.
“I just hope we set the standard,” she said. “If Berlin can step up and do it, Snow Hill, Ocean Pines and these other communities can do it too. Everybody needs to step up. Berlin can be the model.”