SALISBURY – Discussions on priority projects, cost estimates and permitting highlighted an update on Wicomico County’s water and sewer master plan.
On Tuesday, George, Miles & Buhr (GMB) representative Peter Bozick presented the Wicomico County Council with a six-month update on the Wicomico County Water and Sewer Master Plan.
Since their last meeting with county officials, GMB representatives said they have started taking steps to secure funding and discharge permits by working with state agencies such as the Maryland Department of the Environment, the Maryland Department of Planning and the Maryland Department of Health.
“They all have diff rules and regulations, and we are trying to navigate through that to come up with a feasible system,” Bozick told county leaders this week.
A master plan for countywide water and sewer began in earnest in the spring of 2019, nearly four years after the county conducted a feasibility study identifying ways to provide sewer service to homes with failing septic systems on the east side of Wicomico.
While the county does not own its own water and sewer facilities, officials acknowledged the master plan would provide a roadmap of sorts for financing, constructing and maintaining a countywide system.
The 285-page document, presented to council members last fall, focuses primarily on sewer infrastructure in unincorporated rural communities within the county’s growth areas.
While it is recommended that roughly 6,000 homes be served by expanded municipal systems, the master plan calls for 12 potential water and/or sewer utility service districts – Mardela Springs, Whitehaven, Parsonsburg, Coulbourn Mill Road area, Nanticoke-Bivalve-Tyaskin, Nanticoke Road area, Riverside Road Extended area, Quantico, Allen, Powellville, East Delmar and East Wicomico – with 10 will be built by Wicomico County and two to be built by developers.
“This whole thing is a collaborative, joint effort,” Bozick said.
He noted the master plan also identifies the first five service districts – Parsonsburg, Coulbourn Mill, Mardela Springs, Nanticoke-Bivalve-Tyaskin and Whitehaven – as priority areas, as they contain a significant number of county homeowners experiencing hardships with failing onsite sewage systems.
“We have five priority areas we are proceeding with, and those are the areas where we are applying for permits and funding,” he said.
Bozick told council members this week his firm had submitted applications for state funding in January and was waiting for officials to release their priority list.
“Even if we rank high and they want to fund the project, we have to come back and make amendments to the Wicomico County water and sewer comprehensive plan and have it signed off by the Maryland Department of Planning …,” he explained. “You cannot get money without being a priority funding area.”
Building infrastructure for the five priority areas, Bozick said, would require several legislative actions, including amendments to the water and sewer comprehensive plan and priority funding area maps, as well as the creation of a county water division.
Bozick said it would also require grant funding to reduce infrastructure costs
Bozick said water and sewer projects totaled $26 million in the Parsonsburg area, $25 million in Mardela Springs, $6 million in Whitehaven and $65 million in the Nanticoke-Bivalve-Tyaskin area.
“Not only do they have small lot sizes and sporadic density, they also have climate change issues – sea level rise and flooding – which would help secure more funding,” he said. “It may also take more time for that project to come together, so we would need to start now in that regard.”
Bozick noted that the county had allocated funds in its fiscal year 2023 budget to continue with its water and sewer plan implementation. He said Wicomico’s next step would be to send out a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a special consultant.
“We want to put out an RFP and get special consultants on board to get these permits …,” he said. “Once we find out where we stand with permits and funding, we have to decide which of these five projects we put more emphasis on.”
After further discussion, the council agreed to hold another meeting with GMB representatives at a date to be determined.