At what was supposed to be a brief hearing on the merits of applyingfor federal money to partially fund a study, county planning, environmental and economic development officials started to plead their case for a Finksburg-area sewerage and water system.

The brief publichearing -- which attracted about 15 people, only six of them Finksburg-area residents -- was a formality in the county's quest for $10,000 from the Small Communities Development Block Grant Program to help with a sewerage- and water-system feasibility study.

But while County Planner Gregg Horner told the commissioners and others yesterday afternoon of the tentative nature of the study, the discussion quickly turned into an argument for creating the area's first public sewerage and water system.

"We are in the very, very initial stages here," Horner said. "Whether any public water or sewer system is built in this area is partly dependent on the results of this preliminary study. I really can't tell you when a system would or could be built."

That system would serve the South Carroll area -- basically a 25-square-mile swath along Route 140 from the Baltimore County line to Arnold Road outside Westminster -- and would, officialssaid yesterday, be effective in cleaning up ground-wa

ter contamination, spurring economic development and preserving water.

But that wasn't the point of the hearing, Horner and other officials maintained in between plugs for the sewerage and water system.

No cost estimate for such a system exists, but much smaller public systems -- such as the one proposed for the North Carroll community of Pleasant Valley -- cost nearly $2.5 million outright and thousands of dollars a year to operate.

Yesterday's hearing will allow the county to apply for the block grant money for the feasibility study for the Finksburg area. The price tag of the study is $32,000; the county will provide $22,000.

The application for the federal money is due today.

In the application, the county says the study and its resulting alternative recommendations are "a key ingredient in the process of formulating a comprehensive Route 140 Corridor Plan that proposes to provide for increased business and industrial opportunities in the corridor, and will address problems of aesthetics, traffic circulation, safety and economic development."

The Finksburg area is slated for aheavy concentration of light-industrial development by county administrators, who see it as a natural growth location in metropolitan Baltimore.

A water and sewerage system, officials said yesterday, would help spur interest in the area.

"With a sewer and water system,we would have an excellent situation to attract the kinds of industrial development we want," Economic Development Director James C. Threatte said. "The Finksburg area is the next logical area of development with Owings Mills now becoming built out."

County officials saidthat a sewerage and water system also could address some of the environmental problems of the area. Citing a study done five years ago, Horner and the county's assistant planning director pointed to dozens of wells around Finksburg that have been contaminated with nitrates, petroleum and other pollutants.

"This is one of the reasons for the study," said K. Marlene Conaway, the assistant planning director. "We can accumulate data and look at what's happening."

The study would be conducted by a consultant, who would work with the county's planning staff.

Several of the handful of residents at the hearing expressed concern over just what a public sewerage and water system would do to Finksburg. Some argued that it would bring too much development and that it would cost too much money.

This is not the first such feasibility study the county has pursued in recent years.

Indeed, the county wants to convert many of the communities served by private septic and well systems or with private, outdated multihome systems, to modern, public ones.

The most recently completed study was for the 58-home community of Pleasant Valley.

That study, released in April, concluded that a public water and sewerage system -- while costing more than $38,000 a household -- would vastly improve water quality and water pressure and reduce soil pollution levels. The county is most concerned with reducing ground-water and soil pollution.

"A study in Finksburg could reveal to us that pollution there is more serious than we think it is," Commissioner Julia W. Gouge said. "We could, in looking at the feasibility of a sewage system, find that the pollution that we already know is there is going in a totally different direction than we think it is."

Horner said that once money for the study is approved, results could be available within a year.

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