County To Pay $16K In Overflow Fines

SNOW HILL – Worcester County will pay $16,686 in fines related to sewer overflows from 2017-2021.

The Worcester County Commissioners on Tuesday agreed to pay $16,686 to the Maryland Department of the Environmental (MDE) to settle 15 sanitary sewer overflow violation fines. Though there were 23 overflows between January 2017 and December 2021, they weren’t all subject to fines.

“They ruled out the weather-related items and the outside contractor related items,” Public Works Director Dallas Baker said.

In January, MDE asked Worcester County for the reports from 23 sanitary sewer overflow (SSO) events. Baker said his staff went back and looked through their records, as every time there is an overflow the county has to submit a letter to MDE explaining the issue and detailing steps being taken to address it.

“Sometimes it’s something like a valve breaks, a pipe bursts,” Baker said. “Sometimes a contractor drills a hole through one of our lines and sometimes there’s an overflow due to weather.”

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After reviewing the information the county submitted regarding the 23 overflows, MDE advised Worcester officials that 15 “unlawful discharges to the ground surface or waters of the state occurred.” A May letter from MDE acknowledges that some of the incidents were the result of weather or contractor error and waived penalties for those situations but stated that the department could seek penalties of up to $10,000 per day up to a maximum of $100,000 for violations.

“After careful consideration of the facts regarding these unlawful discharges and statuary factors that we must consider in assessing penalties, the Department has determined that the County could be liable for the maximum civil penalty under the law for each reported SSO and/or unauthorized discharge,” the letter reads. “However, prior to filing a formal enforcement action in this case, the Department is offering Worcester County an opportunity to settle, without admission of liability or concession, the aforementioned violations by payment of $16,686 to the Maryland Department of the Environment.”

Baker recommended paying the $16,686 and said the cost would be broken down per service area based on the overflows. Ocean Pines, where there were five fined overflows, and Riddle Farm, where there were also five overflows, will pay the majority. Other overflows occurred in the West Ocean City Sanitary Service Area, Mystic Harbour Sanitary Service Area and Assateague Point Sanitary Service Area.

The commissioners voted unanimously to pay the fines.

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.