Berlin Inks Spray Land Deal

BERLIN – A deal for 350 acres of spray irrigation land in Newark has been struck, according to an unheralded announcement made during the Berlin Mayor and Council meeting Monday night.

The land’s purchase price, $1.7 million, will come from a bond issue, with the total cost, including debt service over 20 years, bringing the price up to $2.2 million.

The debt will be paid through water and sewer hook-up fees, which the town has been accumulating against the need to make major upgrades to the sewer and water systems.

Originally, Berlin had planned to purchase 200 acres of the agricultural property on Five Mile Branch Rd. in Newark, but over the summer the property owner offered to sell the town more land. Negotiations took weeks, but the town and the landowner eventually settled on a price acceptable to both parties.

The additional spray irrigation land in Newark will benefit the town in numerous ways, said Berlin Mayor Gee Williams Monday night as he made the unexpected announcement during the mayor’s comments portion of the council meeting.

“It will allow us to have a much bigger buffer area,” said Williams.

The larger spray irrigation site will also accommodate a larger spray lagoon. Most importantly, Williams said, the 350-acre property will take care of the effluent disposal needs of the current wastewater capacity expansion, the next expansion already being planned for several years in the future, and any need for more spray capacity for 20 years after that.

“This takes spray irrigation off our list of concerns for the rest of the lifetime of everybody in this room…we’re willing to do this for the long haul. We’re not doing this piecemeal,” said Williams.

The Worcester County Commissioners mandated spray disposal of additional effluent when they approved the expansion of the Berlin wastewater plant.

Before the purchase can be finalized, the town must seek a special exception from the Worcester County Board of Zoning Appeals to allow the spray facility on the proposed site.

“I know there’s been some criticism of the site,” Williams said Monday night. “I think it’s another classic example of NIMBY, not in my back yard. In my opinion, this is not about science.”

Neighbors of the planned spray facility have enlisted a consultant to try to forestall the spray facility on the Newark site, citing potential environmental problems for the Pocomoke River.

The consultant, Richard Klein of Community and Environmental Defense Services in Owings Mills, contends the existing Berlin spray irrigation site has contaminated nearby groundwater, which has not been reported to the state. Contaminated groundwater could pollute the Pocomoke River, Klein said.

The Maryland Department  of the Environment (MDE) says the Berlin spray site is not a threat to the river, and that it closely monitors all test results.

“Berlin has submitted the results in a timely manner and MDE has reviewed the results in a timely manner,” said MDE spokesman Jay Apperson.

The improvements to the Berlin wastewater treatment plant will bring that facility to a much higher standard of treatment, in line with the most stringent treatment plants in the United States.

“We’re doing all this so we’ll have a state-of-the-art wastewater treatment facility second to none in the country,” said Williams.