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Havre de Grace and Aberdeen will build $2.5 million water line between cities

The cities of Havre de Grace and Aberdeen will split the costs of building a utility line that will allow Havre de Grace to sell water from its treatment plant to Aberdeen, following the approval earlier this week of a water purchase agreement by the Havre de Grace City Council.

The municipalities agreed to move ahead with funding the new water line since Harford County officials declined to give Havre de Grace permission to use an existing county line along Route 40.

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“I’m extremely disappointed that we couldn’t get the county executive or the County Council to move forward and give us access to that water line,” City Council President David Glenn said Monday before he and his colleagues voted unanimously in favor of the purchase agreement.

The Aberdeen City Council voted in favor of the agreement in January of 2019, but Havre de Grace officials took their time to see if they could secure approval from Harford County to use their line and start sending water to Aberdeen while the cities designed and built the new line.

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“But, Mom and Dad said no, so we’re going to have to build our own pipe,” Mayor William T. Martin said. “But that happens; everybody has the right to say no.”

County Executive Barry Glassman “has a fiduciary responsibility to look out for Harford County’s rate-payers who bought and paid for the infrastructure in the system,” said Cindy Mumby, a spokesperson for Harford County Government. The water fund is an enterprise fund that is not funded by property or income taxes, but paid for entirely by users, she said.

Glassman “has been clear that he’s fine if [Havre de Grace and Aberdeen] want to build their own operation,” Mumby said. “From a business standpoint, he has always used the argument why would Burger King let McDonald’s use their equipment to fry burgers?”

Mumby also cited technical concerns about commingling water and Maryland Department of Environment requirements that might have needed to be met if the county had agreed to let the two cities use existing infrastructure.

Officals from the City of Aberdeen did not respond to messages seeking comment as of 4:30 p.m. Wednesday.

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

Havre de Grace’s portion of those costs will be included in the up to $15 million in bond funding the city is seeking to improve and repair water and sewer infrastructure — pending approval by city voters in a Feb. 4 special election — Finance Director George DeHority said.

DeHority and Whittie were responding to questions from city resident Charlie Mike, who raised concerns during the citizen comment portion of the meeting about how the city will cover the costs of the new water line.

“We’re going to end up borrowing more money, going into more debt, to help out Aberdeen,” Mike said.

“I’m just curious, whether this proposal really is going to be a benefit to the Havre de Grace taxpayers or another financial burden on us,” he continued, adding that the money to build the water line could be used to fix pipes in the city limits.

DeHority said the purchase agreement must be in place “at a minimum, through the repayment and recovery of all the capital infrastructure costs," a period which he said should be about 20 years.

City officials are not looking to make “a ton of profit,” but “we are looking to make sure that we more than cover our costs, both capital and operating, and we fully expect it to,” DeHority said.

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The water line will start at Old Post Road in Havre de Grace, and it will send water pulled from the Susquehanna River and treated at Havre de Grace’s water treatment plant along Route 40 to Aberdeen. The water is slated to enter Aberdeen’s system near Robinhood Road and Route 40, according to the agreement.

Aberdeen, which presently buys water from Harford County, will pay Havre de Grace $4 per 1,000 gallons for the first 500,000 gallons per day, then $3.90 per 1,000 gallons for the next 30,000 gallons per day, $3.80 for the next 30,000 gallons after than and then $3.70 for an additional 40,000 gallons per day, according to the agreement.

Aberdeen will purchase a minimum of 500,000 gallons per day from Havre de Grace and can buy up to 900,000 gallons a day, according to the agreement.

“The more water we produce, the less our expenses per 1,000 [gallons] to produce, so the margins begin to increase for us somewhat exponentially,” Patrick Sypolt, director of administration for Havre de Grace, said of the incremental decreases in water purchase rates.

The agreement was amended to show what rates will be applied to the respective incremental increases in water supply; the amendment was introduced by Councilman David Martin, and it was approved by the council.

City Councilman Jason Robertson noted, in response to Mike’s questions, that “no one up here wanted to finance building this pipe.”

“We were hoping that we would be able to use the existing county pipe to sell water to Aberdeen. It would have been a good deal for us and for them,” he said.

Robertson said Havre de Grace “can create more water more cheaply than the county’s currently selling to” Aberdeen.

“That would help some of their business operations that need to expand,” he said.

‘Think more globally’

Mayor Martin said Havre de Grace citizens should “think more globally” about the new water line, beyond just selling water to Aberdeen. He stressed that, once it is built, it puts Havre de Grace in a position to sell water throughout Harford County as development increases.

“There’s no disagreement that in the future clean drinking water will be a very, very valuable commodity,” he said. “Havre de Grace has unlimited capacity to pull it out of the river.”

The mayor said the city is currently “on an island of water,” making water for its own citizens and using about half of the water treatment plant’s capacity of about 5 million gallons per day.

“With improvements [to the plant], we could even make more,” he said.

The mayor stressed the importance of “helping out our sister city of Aberdeen” and guaranteeing them enough water to support their development.

“If Harford County is going to thrive, which would help Havre de Grace thrive, then we need to be able to supply water,” Martin said. “The most important thing about this line is getting the water to where it needs to go.”

Questions on bond referendum

DeHority thanked the council for approving the water purchase agreement, and he thanked Mike for his questions earlier in the meeting.

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He said the water line is “an integral part of our capital infrastructure” plan funded by the bond referendum, on which city officials are asking the citizens to vote. DeHority encouraged anyone who has questions to contact City Hall and speak to him or other department heads — the main number is 410-939-1800.

“We really want it to be a transparent vote and for the citizenry to be fully informed,” he said.

The new line improves the volume of water coming out of the treatment plant, plus it decreases pressure on the city to raise utility rates in the future, according to DeHority.

He noted that anyone who has a manufacturing background would “understand, very intuitively,” that “the more you use an asset, the cheaper the cost per unit of output.”

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