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A Harford County church announced it has decided “to push pause” on plans to build its own private wastewater treatment plant following concerns raised by residents in both Harford and Baltimore counties.

Mountain Christian Church in Joppa wanted to replace its existing septic system — which has been cited by Maryland environmental investigators — with a privately maintained plant that would pump as many as 4,999 gallons of chemically treated wastewater into a tributary of the Little Gunpowder Falls. The church needed approval and a surface discharge permit from the Maryland Department of the Environment to build the new wastewater plant.

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The request worried downstream neighbors in Harford and Baltimore counties because of problems with the church’s current system and because the proposed wastewater plant could hurt the water quality of local streams and rivers.

The church said the effluent from the proposed plant would be cleaner than the stream that it would flow into and would be monitored for temperature.

However, the church said in a statement that “the public meetings that were part of this process and the subsequent media publications revealed some concern about this project, of which we were not unaware.” The church has postponed its application process with the state Department of the Environment “to think creatively, re-evaluate all the factors and possibilities, and discern if there were any other viable options.”

“As a result, we have alerted MDE that we are no longer pursuing the surface discharge permit," according to the church’s statement.

State Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles said in a statement that his agency is working with the church to revise its plans for a new septic system “with no discharge to a tributary of the Little Gunpowder Falls.”

In the meantime, the church stated it has suspended the discharge of any effluent from its current system. It is being contained onsite and hauled off by a third-party septic hauling company. The church stated it could possibly consider a “subsurface discharge” on its campus going forward.

The church’s announcement comes nearly three months after the Baltimore County Council unanimously passed a resolution sponsored by Republican Councilman David Marks that urged the state to require the church to develop an alternative to its proposal. In a statement, Marks said he’s glad the church has come to the conclusion that an on-site system is "preferable to any proposed discharge into our waterways.”

“The Gunpowder River Valley is one of the most spectacular parts of Baltimore and Harford Counties, and I am glad that the church’s proposal will not advance,” said Marks, of Perry Hall.

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