County Executive Robert R. Neall and the Department of Utilities areat odds over the need for public input into expansion of the Patuxent Wastewater Treatment Plant.
The county executive is willing to allow a committee of community residents to debate whether expansion is necessary, while the director of utilities wants the committee to advise only on environmental and technical concerns.
"This represents a miscommunication between the Department of Utilities and the county executive," Neall spokeswoman Louise Hayman said, "We want a process that will take into consideration the concerns of the people. The Department of Utilities' proposal was not the bestway."
Friday morning, Director of Utilities Thomas H. Neel said his department had decided the Patuxent plant needs to expand because so many developers are on waiting lists.
"The general development plan is calling for growth in the western part of the county," he said. "It is just a matter of time when that plant will be expanded to meet the population expansion."
Neel asked two County Council members for a list of names of people to serve on an advisory panel, then sent letters to those listed, saying their duties would be to "offer community insight into the future expansion and operation" of the plant.
But many community leaders who have been involved with the plant for years were not contacted. And some committee members were dismayed to find out that they would not be debating whether or not the plant should grow.
Friday afternoon, Neall wrote a letter to community leaders asking for more input on the makeup of the committee and leaving open the possibility that expansion plans could be part of the debate.
"It was purposely vague," Hayman said of the letter.
Neall also moved back the date of the first meeting, from Sept. 11 tosometime after Oct. 1. "The county executive wants to make sure we do this the right way," Hayman said.
Before Neall's letter was issued, many community leaders had expressed concern that the expansion was a foregone conclusion. They said they were disturbed by the way the committee was selected and questioned what is was supposed to do.
Critics also charged that the county was trying to appease developers at the expense of citizens. That concern involves the Halle Cos., builders of the massive Seven Oaks project in Odenton. Halle is suingthe county, claiming it reneged on a deal two years ago to enlarge the plant. The company needs the expansion to complete Seven Oaks.
Faye Scheibe, customer relations manager for the utility, said the committee was established in good faith, to give community residents a say.
Scheibe said plans call for a 3-million-gallons-a-day expansion, which would increase the capacity to 9 million gallons. Scheibe said the plant is operating at 3.5 million gallons a day; critics charge it already is operating at capacity.
Once the panel finishes its job, the proposal would go to the County Council for approval. The process could take up to three years.
Many developers, including the builders of Crofton Farms, a 722-unit planned development proposednorth of Crofton off Route 3, need the plant expansion so they can proceed with their projects. The development was approved in March, but residents opposed to the project filed an appeal, which was heard last week. One of the residents appealing, Paul McHugh, representing the Severn Chapel Homeowners Association, is on the Patuxent committee.
Other members include Dave Lombardo, past president of the Crofton Civic Association; Kathy Fleischman, representing the Forks of thePatuxent area; Robert Diaiso, a Crofton resident; Tom Hasbrouk, representing the Greater Crofton Council; and Robin Ireland, representingOdenton.
Delegate Marsha G. Perry, D-Crofton, who has followed the Patuxent plant since it was built, said she was not invited to be on the committee. Neither was Pat Wellford, president of the Odenton Improvement Association.
Scheibe said the names for the six memberswere given to the department by two County Council members, David G.Boschert, D-Crownsville, and Virginia P. Clagett, D-West River. She said the committee can always expand.
"We are totally open to who is on the committee," she said. "We are still in the very early stages of getting this committee together."
Perry said promises were made after the last expansion in 1978 that the facility would not enlarge without assurances that the Patuxent River would not be harmed.
"I am insistent on that," Perry said, promising to demand that an extensive Environmental Impact Statement be done before the plant expands.
Neel said he doesn't think an EIS is needed but declined to rule anything out, depending on what the committee wants.
Neel, Scheibe and Hayman all denied a link between the formation of the committee, the proposed expansion of the plant and the situation the Halle Cos. finds itself in with Seven Oaks. The development, currently underconstruction, needs the expansion so it can build the second half ofits 4,700-home development.
Critics are concerned about a repeat of two years ago, when a consortium of developers -- including Halle -- was set up to pay for the $10 million Patuxent expansion. Residents halted the plans, charging the arrangement was a back room deal setup by the county to appease developers.
The County Council unanimously approved a master plan for wastewater treatment facilities in May 1990. It included an amendment prohibiting expansion of the Patuxent plant.
Halle Cos. President Warren Halle then charged that the county had reneged on its deal to expand the plant and filed an $18 million lawsuit. The company purposely defaulted on two $2.1 million payments for a new elementary school, saying it wasn't necessary if itcould build only 2,900 homes. Halle says it won't commit the money until it gets assurances in writing that the Patuxent plant will be expanded.