Funding Approved For WOC’s Initial Water Service Project

WEST OCEAN CITY — The first leg in a multi-million, decade long water service project in West Ocean City had its funding approved Tuesday by the Worcester County Commissioners.

This initial phase will include water service interconnections between Assateague Point, Landings and Mystic Harbour and will add nearly 1,000 EDUs to the county supply.

Phase I of the overhaul will take between one and three years and will cost an estimated $1.1 million. As the interconnections are put in place, the county should see a number of improvements.

“The benefits of that would be approximately 900 additional EDUs, water EDUs, in the area,” said John Tustin, director of Public Works. “It would allow the Mystic Harbour water tower to be removed and actually re-painted. The last time it was painted was back in the early ‘90s.”

The project would also reduce operating costs by removing the need for multiple plants to run simultaneously during the slow winter months. Additionally, water supply “redundancy/reliability for all service areas” would increase.

The project funded Tuesday is only the first of four. Phase II will be an interconnection between Riddle Farm and Mystic Harbour, Phase III will be re-construction of the Oyster Harbor water treatment plant and Phase IV will be distribution system reinforcing pipelines and north water tower implementation.

The combined, estimated cost for all four phases stands at $4,850,000.

“In an effort to make the water system improvements less of a burden on the system ratepayers,” wrote Tustin in a memo to the commission, “the Division has worked with the Advisory Board to develop a phased implementation program so that the improvements can be implemented over the next 5 to 10 years.”

Total completion could take up to 15 years, however, and estimates are based on the expectation that the demand for county water in the West Ocean City area continues to grow. Major development is considered likely within the service area, particularly in proximity to Route 50.

Growing water service capability through interconnections should yield positive results, predicted Commissioner Judy Boggs. She did, however, have some questions about how the phases will go a few years into the project.

“I think this regional and redundancy approach is really good, but I’d like a little information about Oyster Harbor way down the road,” she told Tustin.

Reconstruction on Oyster Harbor’s Water Treatment Plant is scheduled for Phase III. Right now, the county doesn’t have the capacity or need to run the plant but that could change in the next decade depending on development.

While the interconnectivity of multiple sites came with a lot of upsides, Commissioner Louise Gulyas wanted to make sure the network was justified in terms of population and that it would still be flushed even during the county’s slow winter months.

“We will continue to flush it, we will continue to keep it and maintain it as we need to,” Tustin said. “We wouldn’t let it stay dormant, no. There will be continued use as part of our operation plan.”

The commission approved the funding request and agreed with the proposed funding methods suggested by Public Works. These include using the Mystic Harbour service area fees as a down payment while securing short-term funding from either a bank or general fund. There will also be a $1,000 surcharge on future EDU purchases to “retire the debt as new customers are connected.”