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Water scarcity and the stalling effect it can have on economic development is a known issue in Westminster. But Carroll County leaders have expressed frustration with how the city is going about solving the problem.

The Westminster Common Council and the county commissioners have each expressed eagerness to address the water issues, but are not on the same page for how to best address it with each other.

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The commissioners have openly discussed the city’s allocation policy and criticized the city’s pace on securing more water sources, whereas city officials have accused the county of refusing to acknowledge the complexity of the problem or agree to a joint meeting on the topic.

In their Oct. 31 meeting the commissioners said they felt a disconnect between their board and the municipal government in Westminster when it comes to water and sewer allocation in the city.

“Westminster and Carroll County in partnership, understanding the water situation and water allocation is critical. And right now I am not confident we are in sync,” Commissioner Ed Rothstein, R-District 5, said at the commissioners’ meeting. And Commissioner Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, asked to see figures for gallons per day in reserve for business and residential development.

After viewing the commissioners’ comments, Westminster Mayor Joe Dominick and city Councilman Benjamin Yingling, who represents the council on the city’s Public Works Committee, said in an interview they are actively trying to set up a joint meeting between the council and commissioners, but haven’t heard a response from the county. They presented dates that the Westminster council and mayor could meet.

Their water and sewer allocation policy, which governs how those resources are allocated to building projects, is complicated and not something that can be explained in a simple email, Dominick said. The numbers Frazier requested, he said, are publicly available through the city planning department.

Westminster officials say they don’t enjoy turning down development projects, but the allocation policy they’ve put in place is essential to allow businesses to plan ahead and to avoid a future moratorium on development like the one that ran for several months starting in June 2017.

“We’re very happy to make it very clear to the top levels of the county what that plan is,” Yingling said. “We want to be partners.”

They want to meet in person about the water and sewer policy because it is so complex. When it was first introduced to the mayor and council, it took several meetings and a whole wall of charts and illustrations to explain, Dominick said.

Water and sewer resources are limited in the city, Dominick said, and budgeting them is as complex as budgeting the city’s finances. He compared the commissioners’ frustrations about Westminster budgeting water and sewer with the same frustrations the commissioners hear from their constituents when allocating the county’s budget.

Commissioner Stephen Wantz, R-District 1, feels a policy meeting with city officials would be an extraneous step when the specific issue the city needs to address is the Medford Quarry project, he said in an interview with the Times.

He said the city hasn’t made it clear to the county why the project is complicated.

“Unless I’m missing something the bottom line is this. They have a demand for more water. There’s a quarry sitting there with a whole bunch of water in it ... why aren’t we utilizing it?” he asked.

The quarry is connected to the Westminster water system, but is only approved to be used as a water source in times of a governor-declared state of emergency.

To move forward, Wantz said, a meeting with all stakeholders involved in the Medford Quarry project is the next step forward.

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“Communication — that’s how you typically fix those issues,” he said. This would need to include elected officials and staff from the county and city, he said, as well as the private owner of Medford Quarry and MDE.

Frazier, when reached Wednesday, said he was more amicable to the meeting about the allocation policy itself. He said a joint meeting seemed like “a step in the right direction and would like to see it broadcast to the public with the same accessibility as any county commissioners meeting.

But Frazier, a former Westminster councilman, agreed with Wantz about feeling that the progress of the Medford project was opaque to the commissioners.

Frazier said that, in his understanding, the city needs to complete two processes to be able to use Medford Quarry as an everyday source of water. The first is to negotiate an agreement with the owner of Medford Quarry, the business Martin Marietta. The other is to complete a permitting process through the Maryland Department of the Environment.

He said that members of the Carroll County government have met with the secretary and staff members of MDE. Frazier said the city could choose to begin pursuing a permit while they negotiated with the owners of Medford. They would need to send a letter to surrounding property owners to begin the process. Frazier said that as far as he is aware the city has not taken that step yet.

“I’m not saying what did happen, what didn’t happen because honestly I don’t know, and the tap still isn’t turned on,” he said.

In response, Dominick said in a second interview that Medford depends on things they have to get done with Martin Marietta before starting the process with MDE.

He disputed the claim that even if they bring Medford online as a water source right away that it would be an immediate solution to the problems in Westminster. The sewer end of the system would limit the impact of the new water source, he said.

“This is a complicated situation,” he said, “and the commissioners would absolutely understand if they met with us, but for the past three weeks, they have refused to schedule a meeting.”

It’s no secret that the city has had to turn down development projects because of water and sewer needs. Dominick acknowledged as much at a meeting of the Board of Education when it was looking to choose between two replacement sites for East Middle School. Dominick said the one site, outside city limits, would require new net water and sewer allocations that wouldn’t become available for years.

Frazier said he’s motivated to address water problems because he believes that word-of-mouth is traveling among site locators that businesses shouldn’t look at Westminster as a place to move because there isn’t water. “If that’s not true, we need to get word out there we have it,” he said.

The city’s current water and sewer allocation policy, which addresses the resources on a rolling seven-year basis, was approved in March 2018.

Yingling said the most important factor the policy offers to businesses and and development is the ability to plan ahead. If they are blindsided by a moratorium on new net allocations, like the one in 2017, it’s bad for business, he said.

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The Medford project is just one of six projects in the short and long terms addressing both water sources and sewer needs, Yingling said. And sewer projects can put an even firmer cap on development activities. These include an inflow and infiltration project that has been fast-tracked on the sewer end of things and the city has taken steps toward a pilot program for a long-term water reuse project, he said.

The goal is that in 10-15 years, when parallel water and sewer projects come to fruition, the city won’t have to say “no” anymore to projects, Dominick said.

Everything else is a “a Band-Aid. A necessary one, but a Band-Aid," he said.

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