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Baltimore County urges ‘no discharge’ as church seeks Little Gunpowder Falls wastewater plant

Baltimore County urges ‘no discharge’ as church seeks Little Gunpowder Falls wastewater plant
Mountain Christian Church is located at 1824 Mountain Road in Joppa. (Kenneth K. Lam / Baltimore Sun)

Baltimore County Council is moving forward to address concerns regarding Mountain Christian Church’s proposal to build a wastewater treatment plant that would affect Little Gunpowder Falls.

The Baltimore County Council on Monday voted unanimously to urge the Maryland Department of the Environment to require an “on-site, no discharge option” for the wastewater discharge permit request from the church. The resolution’s request would essentially prohibit releasing any wastewater, treated or untreated, into the Little Gunpowder tributary.

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Mountain Christian Church in Joppa in Harford County wants to replace its existing noncompliant septic system with a privately maintained plant that will pump as many as 4,999 gallons of chemically treated wastewater into a tributary of the Little Gunpowder Falls. The request has downstream neighbors in Harford and Baltimore counties worried, because the church is being investigated for violations and the proposed wastewater plant could hurt the area’s water quality.

The council’s initial resolution, written last month by Republican Baltimore County Councilman David Marks of Perry Hall and Democratic Baltimore County Councilwoman Cathy Bevins of Middle River, would have explicitly opposed the church’s permit request. Marks said after the meeting that the council wants the church to pursue an alternative option for its proposed plant.

The Harford County Council updated its water and sewer master plan last year to accommodate for the church’s request. During this process, however, Baltimore County has been neither consulted nor notified, even though the proposal would potentially affect many county residents, Marks said.

“I believe Mountain Christian Church does an awful lot of good, but the process of engaging residents in places like Kingsville could have been a lot better and that responsibility also falls — principally falls — on the state Department of the Environment,” Marks said.

The council’s resolution also urges the Environment Department to require the church to meet a higher water quality standard if the request is granted. Additionally, the council is urging the Maryland General Assembly to improve “inter-jurisdictional communication” requirements when an environmental permit such as the church’s proposed permit is requested near a “jurisdictional border.”

Republican Baltimore County Councilmen Wade Kach of Cockeysville said the church’s proposal would set a precedent if the council ignored its potential impact on the waterways.

“If [the Environment Department] does not put a stop to this, I can see Harford County and other counties doing the same thing, which will have a negative effect on our waterways in Baltimore County,” Kach said.

Mountain Christian since 2017 has planned to expand its 70-arce Joppa campus by adding new buildings that require additional wastewater treatment capacity, according to the Baltimore County Council’s resolution. Church officials have argued building a new plant is necessary and will be better for the environment.

The council’s vote comes a month after Maryland flagged the church’s septic system for violations. Mountain Christian Church is currently hauling its wastewater away rather than using its septic system. Environment department spokesman Jay Apperson said the state has “an ongoing investigation.” Mountain Christian executive pastor Luke Erickson said the church is responding to violations.

The council on Monday night was also scheduled to vote on the creation of a Regional Water and Sewer Management Authority. The vote was postponed to a late date.

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