County Seeks ‘Proactive’ Approach With OP Golf Course Irrigation Plan

County Seeks ‘Proactive’ Approach With OP Golf Course Irrigation Plan
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OCEAN PINES – County officials say they are seeking the association’s support to use effluent water to irrigate the Ocean Pines Golf Course.

Last Thursday, association staff and county officials held a town hall meeting to discuss the possibility of using effluent water on the community’s golf course.

“We are not under orders to do this project,” Worcester County Public Works Deputy Director John Ross told association members. “We’re looking at an opportunity to reduce the amount of nutrients we are discharging out to the (St. Martin) river. Yes, we’re discharging very clean water out to the river, but it’s not zero.”

Since last year, county officials have worked with Ocean Pines Association (OPA) General Manager John Viola and association staff to explore the possibility of using effluent from the Ocean Pines Wastewater Treatment Plant to irrigate the golf course. They said using effluent water would not only reduce the level of nutrients entering the waterway, but reduce the use of groundwater for irrigation.

“A lot of times government falls into the category of being reactive,” said Worcester County Public Works Director Dallas Baker. “In this case, we’re trying to be proactive and protect those resources.”

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The proposal also includes an overhaul of the golf course’s irrigation system. Installing new pipes and sprinkler heads, Ross reported, is expected to cost $2.8 million.

“In addition to that, we’re going to have to get our wastewater effluent from the treatment plant out here to the golf course, so they can spray it on,” he added. “We’re looking at this project being somewhere in the $3.2 million category.”

Ross told community members last week the irrigation project would be coupled with a filter replacement project at the wastewater treatment plant, bringing total construction costs up to roughly $6.8 million.

“The belt filter press just has to be done,” he said. “So the question would become whether we are going to add the irrigation system at the same time or not.”

Ross noted the $6.8 million in construction work would increase ratepayers’ quarterly bill by $16. However, the retirement of debt service from a previous project is expected to lower that estimate.

“We’re looking at between $4 and $5 (a quarter) to do the filter project and the irrigation,” he said. “That’s the net impact of doing both those projects.”

During public comments, Pines resident Joe Reynolds questioned who would own and maintain the proposed irrigation system.

“I had a little discussion to with our county attorney, and I believe if it’s bonded by the county it will need to be owned by the county,” Ross replied. “Ultimately, I expect this would be county-owned pipe. It will be installed in easements underneath the golf course, and we can have it written that once the bond expires the easement will expire.”

Officials noted last week the use of effluent water would free up capacity at the treatment plant, as Ocean Pines used about 200,000 gallons per day on irrigation. Reynolds, however, said he had concerns.

“That 200,000 that we’re supposedly going to save for $3 million is going to go overnight, disappear into new development, and we’re going to end up holding the bag in Ocean Pines, as we typically do when it comes to things in the county,” he said.

When asked if officials had explored grant funding for the irrigation project, Ross said they had. He noted, however, that accepting federal dollars could impact the service area’s exemption from bay restoration charges.

“The reason you don’t pay that bay restoration charge is because you have produced high-quality effluent and you have never used federal grant money to build your wastewater treatment plant,” he said. “Is moving that effluent onto the golf course considered the treatment plant? We don’t know. If we know funding is available we will absolutely go for it, but we do not want to lose our exemption from the bay restoration in the meantime.”

Baker told Ocean Pines residents last week the county would need some commitment from the association before it could move forward with funding and design. OPA officials noted that construction would not start until November 2022 at the earliest.

“It’s not like they’ll be digging up every inch of fairway running lines everywhere …,” said Superintendent of Golf Justin Hartshorne. “Throughout construction, you will have several holes closed and sections closed so they can get the work done. But as far as surface disruption on the golf course, there will be some but it won’t be a huge impact on the golf course.”

A video of the town hall meeting is now available on the Ocean Pines Association YouTube channel.

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.