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Union Bridge seeks federal block grant for aging water system


UNION BRIDGE -- The town needs another water source, new water mains and a back-up storage tank, its officials say.

But the $2 million price of those improvements is six times Union Bridge's annual budget, and its financial resources have run dry, so officials are making another trip to the federal government well.

With the help of county planner Steven C. Horn, the officials here applied for a $500,000 Small Cities Community Development Block Grant on Thursday.

"The town's only well, drilled in 1913, still gives excellent quantity and quality of water," said Horn at a public information hearing Monday. "But, the water main lines are totally inadequate. The system needs upgrades to meet today's standards and to ensure safety."

Mayor Perry L. Jones Jr. called the town "water-rich" and said its population of 917 has few water problems now, but the system needs work.

That block grant money would cover phase one of the improvements, recommended in a recent state-funded study. However, applicants rarely receive the full amount they apply for.

Officials applied unsuccessfully for a similar grant three years ago. Block grants are awarded on the basis of urgent need, to eliminate urban blight, or to serve municipalities whose populations are about 50 percent low- and moderate-income.

In rejecting the 1989 appliation, the block grant program said the requested improvements and proposed developments would change the population make-up of the town. Grant officials also said the town needed to provide more specifics.

"This time, the project for which we need funding is not creating development or the opportunity for population increase," Horn said. "We are just trying to bring the system up to minimum design standards."

This application is also stronger, he said, because with the study results, the town has done its homework. Officials here hope those results will give them an edge.

With the state's $10,000 study grant, the town hired consultants to check existing lines and make recommendations to improve the entire system. Whitney, Bailey, Cox and Magnani inventoried the well, pipelines and storage tank and detailed "any potential health hazards due to existing substandard water conditions," according to the terms of the contract.

The Timonium company completed the study last month.

The survey identified all necessary improvements, which could be phased in over a two-year period, Horn told the council.

In addition to the block grant, the town will apply for $500,000 from the state Department of the Environment and about $800,000 in low-interest loans from the Farmers Home Administration.

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