Request to Exempt OP from Bay Restoration Fee Denied

OCEAN PINES– State officials denied Worcester County’s request for a flush fee exemption in Ocean Pines.

The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) denied a request from Worcester County to exempt residents in the Ocean Pines Sanitary Service Area from paying the Bay Restoration Fee for calendar year 2023. As a result, residents will continue to see the $15 quarterly fee initially added to their bills last month.

“It was very disappointing,” said Worcester County Commissioner Chip Bertino, who represents Ocean Pines.

In January, Worcester County officials applied for an exemption to the Bay Restoration Fee.  The fee, commonly referred to as the flush tax, goes to a dedicated fund used to upgrade publicly owned wastewater treatment plants throughout Maryland with enhanced nutrient removal (ENR) technology. Historically, low levels of nitrogen and phosphorous at the Ocean Pines plant have earned it an exemption from the fee.

This month, MDE officials advised Worcester County staff that 2022 discharge monitoring reports showed that the Ocean Pines Wastewater Treatment Plan averaged 2.84mg/l of total nitrogen, which met the requirement to be eligible for the exemption. The phosphorous level, however, averaged 0.315mg/l, which exceeded the eligibility requirement by 0.015 mg/l.

The overage occurred when manufacturers were unable to supply a chemical needed for phosphorous removal because of national supply chain issues. Bertino said it’s not something he expects to happen again.

“We got jammed up last year because we were unable to purchase chemicals necessary to keep the phosphorus levels down,” he said.  “As a result the numbers shot up.”

He added that county officials had reached out to MDE regarding the issue but were advised nothing could be done as far as the fee.

He said county staff had done their best to advise Ocean Pines residents of the $15 quarterly increase by including information in the last bill. He said he’s gotten questions from residents but that they’ve been understanding once he’s explained the situation was caused by supply chain issues. Bertino does not believe the plant will have trouble hitting the requisite nitrogen and phosphorous levels next year.

Worcester County officials will continue to monitor treatment plant operations and will reapply for an exemption in 2024. Since the chemical supply interruption was restored last summer, the Ocean Pines plant has been operating normally, with nitrogen and phosphorus levels below the threshold.

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.