SNOW HILL – In an effort to avoid hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines, county officials have agreed to pay the state a one-time fee for sewer overflows that occurred in 2014 and 2015.
The Worcester County Commissioners on Tuesday agreed to settle with the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) for a payment of $3,100. The eight sanitary sewer overflows that occurred between July 2014 and June 2015 could have been subject to penalties of $100,000 each.
“We, of course, recommend settlement, but I still believe this tends to be a money grab by the Maryland Department of the Environment,” said John Tustin, the county’s director of public works.
According to Tustin, the first overflow was the result of a complete electrical failure in one of the Mystic Harbour pump stations that caused a grease trap to overflow near Sunset Grill. Three of the other overflows were related to the ongoing upgrades in the Ocean Pines wastewater collection system. Another came after a mechanical failure at a pump station. The remaining overflows were the result of small leaks identified by staff throughout the year.
In a letter to Tustin, MDE officials said state law authorized administrative penalties of up to $10,000 a day up to a maximum of $100,000 and civil penalties of up to $10,000 a day for water pollution violations.
“However, prior to filing a formal enforcement action in this case, the department is offering the county an opportunity to settle, without admission of liability or concession, the aforementioned violations if the county agrees to make a payment of $3,100 to the Maryland Department of the Environment,” the letter reads.
Tustin said the settlement amount equated to roughly $400 per incident, which was significantly less than the potentially $100,000 per event MDE could have fined the county.
“They have offered to settle without any admission of guilt for $3,100,” Tustin said.
The commissioners voted 5-0 to approve the settlement. Commissioner Jim Bunting pointed out that fact that several of the leaks were small at 99 gallons and 150 gallons.
Tustin agreed and said there was little the county could do that it wasn’t already doing to avoid similar incidents.
“Our guys do a great job,” he said, adding that when they thought a particular action could cause an overflow they had trucks on standby. “In case something like this did happen, we’d clean it up expeditiously. It’s the nature of the beast.”