OCEAN PINES – A petition to stop a proposed irrigation project at the Ocean Pines Golf Course is making its way around the community.
Ocean Pines resident Grant Helvey said he has launched a petition to halt a county proposal that calls for installing a new irrigation system and spraying treated effluent at the community’s golf course.
Helvey said not only was he concerned it would take more than $3 million to implement the plan, but that the use of effluent would create an environmental hazard.
“My intent in my petition is to show a higher level of opposition,” he said.
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 and free up capacity at the wastewater plant.
The proposal also includes an overhaul of the golf course’s 50-year-old irrigation system.
“The pumping station and all the equipment there, it works, but it does need a lot of maintenance,” Viola said last month. “We have done repairs there, but it’s ready to be replaced.”
Installing new pipes and sprinkler heads, officials reported, is expected to cost $2.8 million, but adding pipelines and pumps to bring the treated effluent from the Ocean Pines Wastewater Treatment Plant to the golf course is expected to increase that total to more than $3 million.
In a joint town hall meeting last month, county officials noted that ratepayers would pay between $4 and $5 more each quarter to fund the construction costs of both the irrigation system and an unrelated filter replacement at the treatment plant. The new irrigation system would then be owned and maintained by Worcester County over the course of a 15-year bond.
Following that presentation, the OPA Board of Directors voted in September to send a letter of support endorsing the county’s plan for a new irrigation system and effluent treatment process.
“There are no contracts, no proposals at this point,” President Larry Perrone said in last month’s board meeting. “It’s up to the county to move forward with their plans and to move forward with putting it on their schedule and try to get the bond issue going.”
Helvey’s petition, launched last week, calls on the Worcester County Government and the OPA Board of Directors to stop plans for a new irrigation system. He noted his concerns involved the use of effluent and its impacts on the environment and public health. He also questions the board’s authority to support the project without a referendum.
“The cost to the county would be repaid through increased water bills,” the petition reads. “The impact on human health or the natural environment have not been evaluated by the Ocean Pines Environmental and Natural Assets Committee. The Ocean Pines Board of Director’s authority to support this project exceeding $1,000,000 without a referendum is in question.”
The petition continues, “To Worcester County Commissioner and Ocean Pines Board of Directors. I am an Ocean Pines property owner or resident and I oppose the expenditure exceeding $1,000,000 (or any other amount) by the Ocean Pines Board of Directors or Worcester County government for irrigating any land area of Ocean Pines with sewer water or effluent.”
Helvey says he plans to present his petition to both the OPA Board of Directors and the Worcester County Commissioners.
“This is not about me,” he said. “This is about my view that spending $3.4 million, or anything near that, and what you accomplish with that, makes no sense to me.”
In an interview this week, Ocean Pines resident Slobodan Trendic said he was not involved in helping create the petition, but supported the idea of holding a referendum on the matter.
It should be noted that the association must hold a referendum for capital expenditures over $1 million. But as the project is not spearheaded by Ocean Pines, Trendic says it can be argued it is not necessary.
“I’m in favor of the community being asked to vote on this project because it’s so controversial,” Trendic said. “It’s not because of the cost, but it’s about being fully transparent.”
Trendic said he had sent an email to the board and general manager last month saying as much.
“The County indicated it intends to fully recover all project costs by assessing OPA homeowners extra charge on the quarterly bills,” the email reads. “By choosing to support their proposal you don’t have to ask the membership to approve via referendum this multimillion dollar capital expenditure. Setting aside the above point have you actually done your own due diligence on this topic? Have you taken into account the long-term impact your decision will have on the OPA community? Do the right thing and ask the entire community to vote on the County’s proposal via a referendum.”