Loy and Ava Heare feel like they are caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place.

In fact, it's a real rock that has this couple, and their Joppa neighbor, Mary Eber, stuck and wondering where toturn for help.

In 1987, the Heares were among nine families on Old Joppa Road who petitioned the county to have their homes hooked up to the county water system. The homes were served at the time by private water wells, some of which had poor pressure.

The county agreed to the project if the residents paid the costs through an annual assessment that would be carried over 20 years. The residents agreed after the county estimated the annual assessment at about $335 for each home.

With that settled, the county proceeded on the project in 1988.

But in August 1989, with seven homes hooked up to the county water system, work on the project suddenly was brought to a halt.

"We came to a stream and ran into rock," said Jerald R. Wheeler, deputy director of the Public Works, Water and Sewer Division.

The project was nearlycomplete, with just 200 feet to go, when work crews hit the bed of rock right in the path of the main water line through the neighborhood.

"The bids we got on rock blasting indicate we'll need a total of$45,000 to finish the job," said Wheeler.

And the project has satdormant ever since while county public works engineers and residentstried to find a solution.

The county had budgeted about $35,000 to install the 800 feet of pipe. So far, the Department of Public Works has spent $17,800.

The solution DPW proposed to the County Council in June was to approve $28,000 more to complete the project -- rock blasting and all -- and almost double the nine Old Joppa Road residents' annual assessment, to $660, to pay for the unexpected cost.

The residents, several of whom are on limited incomes, indicated their disapproval to their County Council representatives at a public hearing.

Last week, DPW proposed halting the project permanently.

At a public hearing before the council, most of the nine residents, including the Heares and Eber's daughter, Barbara White, said they could not afford the higher assessment.

The Council could vote on theissue as early as Tuesday.

If the project is halted -- 200 feet short of its original goal -- the assessment for each of the seven homes that now have county water would drop to about $240 annually, Wheeler said.

He added there may be a solution for the Heares and Eber.

A developer has plans to build on a parcel of land near the residents' homes, but there's no certain time frame for the project.

The developer would have to run utility lines right past the Heare andEber homes.

"Eventually, water could be extended to the neighborhood when (the) property is developed, and that would be at a lower cost to the residents," Wheeler said.

In the meantime, to solve wellwater pressure problems at the two homes that have not received hook-ups, the residents could install large water storage tanks to improve pressure, said Wheeler.

Ava Heare said she's lived without indoor plumbing, carrying water for her family of seven children from a nearby stream when the couple lived in another area of the county. "I'mused to saving water, so if I had to put up with it for another 20 years, I could live with it," she said.

"But if they need more money to finish, they should foot the cost themselves. I'm sure they saw those rocks; it's not like the rocks were under 6 feet of water and you couldn't see them."

However, Wheeler said it is very unusual toencounter rock at the 5-foot depth at which water pipes are buried.

"Usually, you don't hit rock at 5 feet. Or if there is rock, you can pick it up on a field visit," said Wheeler.

He said the county didn't attempt borings, as contractors usually do before they make bids, because such geo-technical work can cost more than a small project such as this one.

Council member Theresa M. Pierno, D-District C, said she doesn't think it is fair to leave the Heares and Eber highand dry.

"It's unbelievable. I think the county has to take some responsibility," said Pierno.

"It's like a car repair. You don't give somebody an estimate and say, 'It's going to be $100,' and when they come back say, 'Oops, we made a mistake. It's $1,000.' "

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