Wicomico To Hold Hearing On Morris Mill Public Water Issue

SALISBURY – The Wicomico County Council voted this month to move the possibility of installing a public water supply in the Morris Mill area to address polluted water supply to a public hearing.
In 2012, Trichloroethylene (TCE) was detected in polluting well water of Morris Mill area residents. According to the Maryland Department of Environment (MDE), Trichloroethylene (TCE) is a clear liquid with a sweet odor. TCE is used as a solvent to remove grease from metals and in the production of other chemicals. It is also used in paints, varnishes, lacquers, paint removers, adhesives and other commercial and consumer products.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has concluded that long-term TCE exposure could pose risks to the nervous system, kidneys, liver, immune system, and male reproductive system. The EPA has also concluded that TCE exposure might pose risks to unborn babies, including birth defects.
During a Wicomico County legislative session on Sept. 17, Wicomico County Director of Environmental Health Dennis DiCintio reported, based on the quarterly sampling MDE has conducted 77 total wells have detections of TCE. That number is up from 70 previously.
Forty-five of those detections are above the maximum contaminate level of five ppb. Sixteen wells were found with detections above action level of 2.18 ppb, meaning they qualify for activated carbon units based on the population inside the residence. Sixteen wells with detections below action level of 2.18 ppb, meaning no action is required. Seven wells previously non-detected now have detections. Since November 2012, concentrations have increased in 30 wells with slight decreases in 10.
“That variability is going to continue dependent on groundwater movement and use of the water, so those numbers are likely to fluctuate as sampling continues,” DiCintio said.
Thirty-eight residences now have granular activated carbon (GAC units). EPAs funding initially was to end after one year but was extended an additional six months to May of 2014.
Previous sampling of some of the higher concentration wells noted that the TCE was actually getting through some of the filters because of the higher concentrations requiring much more frequent recharge of the carbon.
“One thing to consider is even though the EPA is funding the carbon units, MDE may not continue funding of the units if a long-term solution is not implemented, which would be difficult as the expense would be turned back over to homeowners,” DiCintio said. “MDE is watching the process closely. They are pushing this project. They would like to see a long-term solution implemented to prevent any additional costs to the homeowners.”
Wicomico County Health Officer Lori Brewster added the TCE point of origin is still unknown.
According to Peter Bozick of GMB Engineering, in June the Wicomico Council authorized a preliminary engineering report. The purpose at that time was to address public health concerns and to develop an engineering perspective for a long-term solution for safe drinking water for those residents in the subdivisions in the affected area.
The report involves evaluating four alternatives — no action, public water supply, Individual Point of Use (POU) Water Treatment Systems or Community Water Treatment System.
The recommended project alternative is a public water supply provided by the city of Fruitland that comes to an estimated total cost of about $8 million.
What would be built under this alternative is a water distribution system from the City of Fruitland. Some of the water lines would be 12 inches, eight inches and six inches. Water service would be extended from two directions — one from the south near Cedar Lane or Morris Mill area and the second from the west near the City of Fruitland’s existing water tank to feed the affected areas.
“We have also made provisions to allow individual hook ups from the water main in the street to the individual homeowners. In typical municipal water system projects, that final connection on the homeowner’s property is paid for directly by the homeowner to the plumber up to the municipal standards to make the connection,” Bozick said. “At each property line, there will be a water meter pit with a valve connection. We have budgeted within the $8 million project cost approximately $1,500 per residence. The hope is as we get further to implementation of the project if it goes through that money would be somehow used collectively as a community to have plumbers to make those connections for the homeowners to help defray some of the connection costs for the homeowners.”
The estimated timeline if the project is approved by January 2014 is to have a design completed in six months, go to bid and have construction completed in 18 months for the project to be concluded in February of 2016.
Wicomico County Director of Administration Wayne Strausburg explained about $6 million in grants is expected for the project through state and federal funding, leaving the county to cover $2 million in bonds.
“You have to consider the loss of market value and marketability is going to be if we don’t do anything and I would suggest to you at this juncture the marketability of the area of concern without a permanent solution is highly questionable,” he said. “I would suggest the lowest value of that property is probably exceeds 16 percent, so from a pure financial standpoint the investment of $2 million makes since in order to protect that property value in the County. From a homeowner’s standpoint, in the long run this is the lowest cost solution for the individual homeowners.”
According to Assistant Wicomico County Attorney Maureen Lanigan, the Urban Services Commission, which is the County Council, will hold a public hearing informing citizens of the contents of the engineering and financial surveys and the probable cost of providing service in the district, including all fees and expenses. At the public hearing, the commission shall vote whether to move the project forward or not.
Citizens have 45 days to petition for a vote. A successful petition must be signed by the owners of 20 percent of the assessed value of the land in the proposed district to succeed. There must be a vote within 30 days. Each owner has one vote for $500 of assessed valuation of his land, and a majority is needed to pass.
“There is a real sense of urgency in my mind in moving this forward,” Strausburg said.
The County Council voted to hold a public hearing in the evening of Oct. 14 at the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center in the Midway Room.