County Planning Commission Examines Water Resources Plan

SNOW HILL – The Worcester County Planning Commission examined last week two of the four sections of the newly proposed Water Resources Element.

While the commissioners were quick to praise the team responsible for drafting the element, many questioned exactly what making the document official would mean for the county.

“There’s a big concern that we have to put these numbers down…,” said Planning Commission President Brooks Clayville.

The Water Resources Element is a collection of data and statistics along with several recommendations for the direction that Worcester County should go in regards to wastewater, storm water and overall water supply. These recommendations will be key in deciding future growth areas of the county, as sewer and water lines are necessary for new housing and commercial developments to even be planned.

“It’s like trying to hit a moving target,” said Chris McCabe, the county’s Natural Resources Administrator.

McCabe, along with Watershed Planner Keota Silaphone, drafted and presented the element to the Planning Commission in December. The commission was given a month to review the four-part document and discussed sections one and four in further detail at last week’s meeting.

“We know that you’ve done your jobs,” Clayville told McCabe and Silaphone, “and you’ve done them well.”

The first section dealt mainly with projected population growth throughout the county and speculates on whether Worcester will be able to meet water demands in the future. The final tally estimates that there will be 18,000 new residents in 7,700 new homes by 2025, with the most growth seen in Berlin and Snow Hill.

“Do we know how many homes have been built so far?” asked Commissioner Wayne Hartman.

Hartman was informed that the exact population data would not be available until the new Census came out, which would be after the submission deadline for the element, which is scheduled to be added to the county’s comprehensive plan in the coming months.

Hartman also asked if the element takes into account the fact that many new residences will be used seasonally as vacation homes.

“So we don’t assume [a home] is vacation or full-time?” he asked.

“We can’t,” replied Edward Tudor, the Director of Development, Review and Permitting.

Tudor explained that the element had to assume all residences were full-time, as having too much water management planned was better than not having enough.

The first section of the element also presented four questions, all dealing with the county’s ability to meet water management demands.

“How much research do we need to answer those four questions?,” asked Planning Commissioner Marlene Ott.

McCabe explained that everything in the element was speculation and that exacts were hard to determine. Tudor agreed.

Clayville acknowledged that much of the plan wasn’t perfectly defined, but that overall it was a useful tool.

“It [the element] is a very broad, broad pallet, it’s a good exercise for starting to think about the comprehensive plan,” he said.

The county’s comprehensive plan would encompass all elements of water resource management and is to be revised next year.

The other section that the commission discussed, which was the fourth and final part of the element, dealt with storm water and non-point source assessments.

“Non-point source is spread out over the whole geographical region,” said McCabe, explaining that there was, like much of the rest of the element, a lot of rounding up and guesswork involved.

After processing all of the information, Clayville vocalized the concern that his fellow commissioners had been feeling throughout the meeting.

“Do we have any idea how this [the element] would ever be used in a situation here?” Clayville asked.

“Who knows?” responded Tudor.

Tudor went on to say that, once the element was adding to the county’s comprehensive plan, the state might have any number of unknown uses for the data. He mentioned that the information might either qualify or disqualify Worcester County from specific funding, though it was impossible to tell which and that the numbers could be used “either for us or against us.”

“I’m glad we had this discussion, as painful as it was,” Clayville joked.

There is still a lot of time before any action needs to be taken on the element. The planning commissioners have planned a separate work session to discuss sections two and three of the plan. Following that, there will be a public hearing and a recommendation to the Worcester County Commissioners.

Until the next work session, members of the Planning Commission will have time to review sections one and four privately.

Tudor strongly urged them to concentrate especially on the final page of section four, which put the complicated plan into as simple terms as possible.