Edgewood residents Wayne and Wende Allen are willing to take on the cost of connecting their Freys Road house to public sewer if it means cleaner waterways, plus getting rid of the holding tank where their household sewage and wastewater is currently deposited.
“It is a nuisance to have a holding tank,” Wende Allen said as she addressed the Harford County Council Tuesday during a public hearing on Resolution 018-17, which would extend public sewer service to her neighborhood.
Allen said she, her husband and adult son “live extremely conservatively with our water usage,” and it costs $230 every five weeks to have the sewage holding tank pumped out.
The resolution, which the council did not vote on Tuesday, calls for extending county sewer service to 12 properties in the 500 block of Freys Road along the Bush River near Flying Point Marina.
In June 2017, 50 percent of property owners voted in favor of a petition to extend sewer service, or six out of 12. At least half of the property owners affected must be in favor, for a petition to move forward to the council.
“The cost of maintaining the tank is extremely similar to what we would be paying for the sewer line hookup,” resident Wayne Allen said.
The sewer service would replace the homeowners’ septic systems, of which a majority have been classified as failing by the Harford County Health Department following an August 2017 evaluation.
“The Health Department considers the majority of the systems evaluated to be failing from a treatment perspective,” Julie Mackert, director of environmental health, told council members.
She said most are too close to the underground water table — they must be 4 vertical feet apart — and they are too close to the Bush River. The septic systems must be at least 100 feet from the surface waters of the river, according to Mackert.
“Given these conditions, it is the professional opinion of this office that the septic negatively impacts the waters of the Bush River with nitrogen and bacteriological contaminants introduced both directly and indirectly,” Mackert said.
She said it would be “extremely unlikely” that the Health Department could sign off on building permits for property improvements such as additions or accessory structures. Mackert said homeowners cannot add any “living space” to a dwelling where a holding tank has been installed.
County officials estimate the project will cost nearly $695,000, of which $270,000 would be covered by grants from the Maryland Department of the Environment. The remainder would be covered by a loan from the state’s revolving loan fund, which each property owner would repay at a cost of $1,582 per year, Dave Burke, chief of the county’s Division of Water and Wewer, told the council.
The 30-year-loan has a 2 percent interest rate, Burke said.
The county must apply to the MDE for the grant and loan, according to Burke. He said the county would apply this month, and it should take up to six months for approval.
Councilman Mike Perrone, whose district includes Joppa and Edgewood, asked what would happen if the grant or loan was not approved, or if a grant of a lesser amount was approved.
The project would have to be canceled if funding did not come through, Burke said. The county would send new ballots to property owners if partial grant funding was available “because the cost would change,” he said.
Burke said county staff contacted the MDE ahead of time to determine the likelihood of grant and loan approval.
“The feedback we got it was highly likely that the grants as well as the loan would be approved but we do have to go through the application process for both,” he told Perrone.
Burke stressed the costs are estimated. He said the council would need to issue a new resolution if costs come in higher than estimated and property owners need to pay more — Resolution 018-17 caps the annual payments at $1,582 per property over 30 years.
Property owners also take on the cost of abandoning their septic tanks and connecting to the sewer, according to Burke. That must be done within one year after the new infrastructure is installed, he said.
“That’s a consideration that I think certainly needs to be looked at,” he said, prompting applause from some members of the audience.
Burke said staff “do not have that information” on how many seniors are among the 12 property owners.
The cost was a topic of concern for some of the five members of the public who spoke on the resolution.
Michael Skiba, one of the affected property owners, said he has “no problem” with cleaner waterways.
“I’m just worried about the undue hardship that it’s going to cause on a few families that can’t afford this project,” he said.
Skiba encouraged the council to ensure the county had “touched every base and looked for every bit of funding that they could possibly come up with.”
Property owner Dawn Boyce said her grandparents purchased in 1954 one of 12 summer cottages on property that was part of a local dairy farm.
Boyce said she spent her childhood summers there, along “a river alive with life,” swimming, crabbing and fishing. She said sea grass was so plentiful that it could get caught in oars or a boat propeller.
That all changed as Harford County’s population grew, she said.
“We feel the health of Otter Point Creek, Bush River and the Chesapeake Bay is of utmost importance, and this [sewer connection] is one thing we can do to help,” Boyce said.
The council is reviewing a second resolution, Resolution 019-17, to update the county’s water and sewer master plan with new sewer classifications for Freys Road, pending the passage of Resolution 018-17.