The County Council, caught between a rock and a hard place, reluctantly gave way to the rock last week, deciding that two of nine families on Old Joppa Road who had requested public water hookups will have to do without.

Between 1987 and August 1989, seven of nine homes on the street were hooked up to county water service. But the project stalled before the homes of Loy and Ava Heare and their neighbor, Mary Eber, could be hooked into the county water system.

The problem? Rock. Lots of it. With 200 feet of pipe left to be laid before the two homes could be hooked up, county workers hit bedrock in the bottom of a stream.

The Department of Public Works estimated it would cost about $45,000 to complete the project -- rock blasting and all. That was about $28,000 more than planned.

That meantthe annual assessment charged all nine homeowners over a 20-year period to pay for the project would be $660, nearly double the county's original estimate. All nine said that was more than they could afford.

On Tuesday, the council voted to end the project where the pipe work stopped. That means the assessment for the seven homeowners who now have county water will drop to $240 a year for 20 years.

Eber and the Heares might be able to connect their homes to the county water system within the next five to 10 years if a neighboring property is developed, county administrators said. If the housing development is built, county water lines would have to be put in place to serve the development and would run near Eber's and Heares' houses.

In anunrelated case, the council voted to provide public water service toabout 17 homes on Turner Lane in Joppa. The neighborhood had been split over whether residents wanted to receive county public water hookups and pay an annual assessment of about $283 per home for 20 years to cover the cost of the project.

Nine neighborhood residents sought county water service; eight property owners opposed the idea.

"We have a difficult decision because no matter which way we go, some injustice will be done," said Jeffrey D. Wilson, council president. "Once again, we find ourselves between a rock and a hard place."

But the council, taking a lesson from the experience on Old Joppa Road,voted to have the Department of Public Works dig test pits to check for rocks before beginning the Turner Lane project.

Public Works has promised to bring the matter back before the council if the test pits detect rock or show a likelihood of considerable cost overruns.

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