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Aberdeen’s city council unanimously voted Monday to introduce an ordinance to free up cash gained from an EPA lawsuit to help defray the costs of water services in the city.

Monday’s vote means the question of whether the money can be spent will next be opened for public comment. A date has not yet been set for a public hearing on the topic, though it is open for comment in public meetings the city council holds.

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City Manager Randy Robertson said that Aberdeen received approximately $2.5 million from an Environmental Protection Agency lawsuit in 2012, and the money was placed into a special fund. The vote Monday was to start the process of freeing it.

“It is simply a legislative move,” Robertson said.

If the ordinance were to be adopted, the money could be directed to potentially constructing a water tower, repairing existing infrastructure or a host of other outlets— though no one project has been decided upon.

The vote comes against the backdrop of the Havre de Grace City Council approving a water purchase agreement last week to build a utility line with Aberdeen in order for the former to sell water from its treatment plant to the latter.

Robertson explained that a previous city council allocated money for the project, but only to study its potential impact and get the facts on the venture. The city has yet to get a clear picture of the pipeline’s design and will not yet move forward on the project.

"That council in the budget last year formally approved a couple hundred thousand dollars or more to pursue a study ... to design a water system that would mutually serve both communities,” he said, “This marriage, at the present, appears to be a few years away.”

Havre de Grace and Aberdeen would split the costs of engineering and construction, said Tim Whittie, public works director for Havre de Grace last week. The costs of engineering, which include acquiring permits, are about $124,000, and construction is expected to cost about $2.5 million.

Havre de Grace’s Chief of Staff Steve Gamatoria said that engineering is under way and that both municipalities are paying. But the decision to build the water line will depend on the results of a special election on Feb. 4 in the city.

Havre de Grace voters decide whether the city should borrow up to $15 million in bond funding to fix aging water and sewer infrastructure.

Last January, Aberdeen approved a memorandum of understanding to purchase from Havre de Grace 500,000 gallons of water a day at a rate of $4 per 1,000 gallons.

The Aberdeen council’s vote Monday was not to direct that money to the utility line partnership, which has yet to be decided, Councilwoman Sandy Landbeck said after the hearing, but rather to free it from the restrictive fund.

Landbeck estimated the water pipe project with Havre de Grace could cost over $6 million in total. And “that water project is still a long way away.

“Right now [the $2.5 million from the lawsuit] is not earmarked for anything specifically.”

When asked by Mayor Patrick McGrady on the reason for the funds’ inaccessibility, Landbeck said the former city council felt that the winnings should be directed toward water projects.

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“This money was money that was given to the city of Aberdeen from a court suit — the pollution of our wells by gasoline station runoff that got into the wells," she said at the hearing. “Rather than just putting it into general fund … we felt that it belonged to the city’s citizens.”

After the hearing, she explained that fuel had leaked into Aberdeen’s well field, contaminating three or four of them. For that, the city was awarded approximately $2.5 million in court.

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