Mountain Christian Church, of Joppa, is seeking state approval to build an on-site, privately-operated wastewater treatment facility to support the expansion of its campus.
The proposed wastewater treatment plant, which would replace the church's existing septic system, would discharge treated effluent into an unnamed tributary of the Little Gunpowder Falls.
The Harford County Council voted unanimously during its May 1 meeting in favor of a memorandum of change to Resolution 004-18, the spring update to its water and sewer master plan.
The full update, which includes areas in Belcamp, Fallston and Forest Hill slated to receive future water and sewer services, was adopted as amended May 1.
The council gave its approval, even though several people who spoke at a public hearing earlier in the evening expressed concern about having a lack of information about the proposed treatment facility and a lack of time to give input.
"It seems like we don't really know anything about this, and it seems to me it would be strange to approve it when we really don't know what's happening," Barbara Risacher, a Joppatowne resident and president of the Joppa Development and Heritage Corporation.
Council members stressed their vote is just the start of the process, and MDE has the responsibility to facilitate public input and has the regulatory and enforcement authority over the church's system.
A development moratorium has been imposed in the Emmorton and Magnolia Elementary School districts, but a Homestead-Wakefield Elementary parent would like to add her children's school to that list out of concern for aging facilities and more residential development coming to the surrounding area.
"Our approval is only to move this to the Maryland Department of the Environment," Council President Richard Slutzky said.
The memorandum of change, which places the church's request into the water and sewer plan, allows the Maryland Department of the Environment to move forward on the church's application, Darryl Ivins, civil engineer with the county's Division of Water and Sewer, told council members during the public hearing.
Resolution 004-18, the spring update to the water and sewer master plan, was introduced to the council March 6. Ivins said the church's request was a late submission as water and sewer staff were in their final week of preparation to submit the update to council.
Any amendment to the submitted plan "must have its own separate public hearing before it could be voted on, approved and made part of the water and sewer master plan," County Attorney Melissa Lambert said.
"We can't issue a permit until a facility is part of an amended master plan," MDE spokesperson Jay Apperson confirmed Tuesday.
Church officials plan to add new buildings on Mountain Christian's main 70-acre campus at 1824 Mountain Road in Joppa, where it has been for 191 years, according to the memorandum of change.
Friends of Harford holds its annual meeting Sunday, during which the next steps after the county's 2017 comprehensive rezoning were discussed, and FOH members met with candidates for local and state offices.
The church has 5,400 members who attend on a regular basis, along with multiple programs for the community on its campus that currently has an MDE-approved septic system. The current groundwater discharge permit allows an average discharge of 2,400 gallons per day, with a peak of 5,000 daily gallons, according to the request.
The proposed expansion requires an above-ground wastewater treatment facility with a capacity of 2,500 to 4,999 gallons per day on average and a peak of less than 10,000 gallons per day. The treated effluent would be discharged into the unnamed Little Gunpowder Falls tributary.
Apperson said the church's application is under review. His agency expects to issue a "tentative determination to issue a permit," or a draft permit in June, and a 30-day public comment period would follow, Apperson said.
The MDE develops effluent limits, and the facility operators must conduct regular monitoring and submit monthly reports to the federal Environmental Protection Agency, which the state agency also reviews, according to Apperson.
Three people who spoke at the May 1 council public hearing expressed concerns about the impact on the Little Gunpowder Falls system, considering existing stresses on the flow and water quality in the Big and Little Gunpowder rivers.
Risacher, a former three-term County Council member who represented Joppatowne, Joppa and Edgewood, cited existing low flows on the Big Gunpowder, which feeds the Loch Raven Reservoir in Baltimore County — a key drinking water source for Central Maryland — and fish kills in the river system.
She said the community is "very interested in preserving what we have and the water quality coming down the Little Gunpowder."
"The Little Gunpowder runs right though the heart of Joppatowne," Bill Temmink, rivers chair for the Joppa Development and Heritage Corporation, said. "If there is a sewage discharge, it will impact all the residents."
Theaux Le Gardeur, executive director of the Monkton-based Gunpowder Riverkeeper organization, suggested the council add a provision for enhanced nutrient removal to the memorandum of change. That process removes even more nitrogen and phosphorous from wastewater discharge than other treatment methods, according to MDE's website.
"That would satisfy a lot of concerns downstream as it relates to groundwater recharge and further pollution abatement within the Little Gunpowder Falls system," he said.
Representatives of the administration of County Executive Barry Glassman sought the County Council's approval Tuesday to end the the 25-year-old Fallston Commercial Corridor sanitary subdistrict during a public hearing on Bill 18-001.
Council members did not add the enhanced nutrient removal provision, but they did pledge to stay on top of the public input process.
"I will stay on it the whole time, I'll go to every meeting if that's what it takes ... if it looks like it's failing, we'll have to do everything we can on the council to stop it at that point," Councilman Joe Woods said.
Ivins, of the Division of Water and Sewer, also acknowledged the public's concerns. He provided the name and number of an MDE official people could contact with any issues.
He said Yen-Der Cheng can be reached at 410-537-3363. Cheng is chief of the municipal permits division in MDE's Wastewater Permits Program, according to Apperson.
Councilman Mike Perrone, who represents Joppa and Edgewood, said he does not think it is the council's place to pre-empt the MDE's discretion to issue the permit as it sees fit, or "make for a higher hurdle" by presuming the agency will not conduct proper enforcement.