County Seeking Fed Funds For Sewer Plant Project

SNOW HILL – State concerns over the potential for sewer service to agriculture or green infrastructure areas that pushed back continued efforts on the Mystic Harbor wastewater treatment plant have now been satisfied, and Worcester County is proceeding to pursue federal funding for the necessary project.

The County Commissioners approved a new water and sewer plan amendment this week including the changes in the agriculture and green infrastructure areas. The original water and sewer amendment approved in September 2008 showed the entire Mystic Harbor service area for service within two years.

The Maryland Department of Planning (MDP) objected to some changes and the amendment was rejected.

“It was sent back to us for some further action,” said Ed Tudor, director of the county’s unnamed consolidated planning departments.

The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) also took issue with some technical aspects of the amendment.

“I think we’ve been able to resolve them all,” said Sandy Coyman, planning coordinator for Worcester County.

The replacement of the failing Mystic Harbor wastewater plant will service more properties, including areas of West Ocean City south of Route 50, including infill and intensification.

The entire area to be served, including West Ocean City, will be kept in S-1, service within two years, while the agriculture and green infrastructure areas shown in the 2006 comprehensive plan will be designated S-3, for service within five to 10 years.

However, the S-3 label does not necessarily mean that those areas will definitely be served with sewer in five to 10 years. The new county water and sewer plan, intended to he an actual planning document rather than the simple inventory it is now, will offer a long-term perspective for the entire county.

The new long-term water and sewer plan should be completed and ready for review this year, according to staff, well before the S-3 label must be reconsidered.

The Mystic Harbor water and sewer amendment proposed last fall did not meet the comprehensive plan.

“That’s what threw things out of whack,” said Commissioner Virgil Shockley.

Out of concern for excess nutrients flowing into the coastal bays, MDP also asked the county to do more to take properties with failing septic systems into the public system.

“They thought our amendment to the service area should address those failing septic systems,” Coyman said.

The new wastewater plant will also be used to take larger septic systems out of the ground at the Ocean City Airport, Eagles Landing Golf Course and the Worcester County Humane Society as well as current commercial uses west of Mystic Harbor.

Just running a line to those large septic systems does not open public sewer for anyone along that pipe to use, according to Coyman, who said the infrastructure installed must be able to accommodate new hook-ups.

Plans call for small pipes that can only accommodate the systems targeted, which means no service would be available for new building, or existing septics along the line.

“They wouldn’t be designed with additional capacity in mind,” said Coyman.

Existing properties in the immediate vicinity of the pipes would be connected, officials said.

“We want to get as many septic tanks as possible out of the ground,” said Coyman.

The expansion of the Mystic Harbor wastewater treatment plant will add another 666 EDUs to the plant capacity for new hook-ups.

The commissioners had to pass the water and sewer plan amendment for the Mystic Harbor wastewater treatment plant before making another attempt to secure funding for the treatment plant project, said Tudor.

“It’s painfully obvious to me they have us over a barrel,” said Tudor. “If we have any hope of qualifying for finding, we need to get the amendment done.”  

“We’re dancing to the music they’re playing,” said Shockley.

“We have a system that could blow up any day,” said Commissioner Bud Church.

The search for funding for the $8.8 million project has been fruitless. The county has been turned down for federal stimulus money and for funding through MDE’s revolving loan fund.

The county is currently pursuing a 40-year, 3.5-percent loan through the United States Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development Program. Some grant funding, based on the impact on sewer and water rates, could be offered to reduce the debt burden on the customer.

An answer on the loan application could come in as early as August.