www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/bs-ed-sewage-letter-20120220,0,4317405.story

baltimoresun.com

Baltimore area residents get stuck if flush tax fails

1:30 PM EST, February 20, 2012

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Residents of Baltimore City and some suburban counties should know they could well see their sewer rates increase significantly in order to pay for the upgrade of the giant Back River sewage plant if the state legislature doesn't approve the proposed increase to the so-called "flush tax."

The flush tax was created to pay for improvements at the state's 67 largest sewage plants. But the fee hasn't brought in enough revenue to finish that job, and Back River upgrades will be in a financial jam without a fee increase.

The Back River plant must be upgraded to meet state and federal permits. Those upgrades would reduce nitrogen pollution discharges at the plant by over two million pounds a year. That would be a huge reduction of pollution to the upper Chesapeake. Back River is the biggest single source of nitrogen pollution within Maryland.

Officials with the Bay Restoration Fund Advisory Committee have floated the possibility of local users picking up the cost of the Back River upgrade if legislators don't approve a fee increase. Baltimore area residents have paid into the sewage fund for years. That money has helped other plants get improvements, a few of them local. They shouldn't have to shoulder more of the cost of the Back River improvements than originally planned.

Alison Prost, Annapolis

The writer is Maryland executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.