The president of a private Churchville-area water system told a hostile crowd of his customers Thursday night that he refuses to comply with a state order to upgrade the system.
Calling state environmental officials' findings "completely false and unfounded," Dr. Charles Edwards, Campus Water Works Inc. president, said he plans to appeal the Thursday order within the state Department of the Environment.
Dr. Edwards, a Baltimore physician, showed up uninvited at the Churchville Recreation Complex meeting of about 70 residents, business owners, and county and state officials.
Many of the residents told Dr. Edwards to leave in none-too-polite terms. They then peppered him with questions and accusations that his failure to maintain the water system has resulted in low water pressure, service disruptions, discolored water and contamination.
State officials say the order from the Department of the %o Environment came after Dr. Edwards failed to comply with repeated requests to make repairs to the 24-year-old system. Its three wells provide water for 72 homes in the Park Campus and Campus Valley housing developments and the 18 businesses in the Campus Hills Shopping Plaza.
The state's order says the company "has demonstrated that it is unable to reliably and consistently provide a safe and adequate supply of water and . . . in the interest of public health, it is imperative that the problems associated with the water supply be corrected as soon as possible."
The order requires him to hire a professional engineer to evaluate the entire water system; install a fourth well for backup; design a detailed emergency response plan; repair and repaint a 200,000-gallon water storage tank; and make repairs the engineer deems necessary. Unless Dr. Edwards complies within days, the state says it will go to court to force him to do so.
But Dr. Edwards, the developer of the 4-year-old Campus Valley Estates community, dismissed as "ludicrous" the state's findings, the basis for the order.
"Everything in the order is completely false and unfounded, and we have been totally victimized by this whole thing," he said at the meeting.
A backup well is unnecessary because customers use less than 25 percent of the system's total capacity of 150,000 gallons a day, he said, and the company already has an emergency plan in place.
He also said it's unnecessary to hire a professional engineer because an engineer scrutinized the system when Campus Water Works bought it 3 1/2 years ago for $135,000.
In addition, Dr. Edwards said several other initiatives are in progress, including painting a 200,000-gallon storage tank and sandblasting the inside to reduce rust and brown water, making structural repairs and restoring corroded electrical wiring.
Dr. Edwards added that low water pressure stems from burst water mains, something that cannot be predicted or controlled.
He also said that he had completed several repairs requested by the Public Service Commission when it approved a 57 percent quarterly rate increase, from $26.70 to $41.95 a quarter, last year.
The repairs included raising two wells above ground level to make it more difficult for bacteria-carrying ground water to enter the wells; replacing a meter that regulates water flow; replacing valves and pumping equipment; repairing gutters, siding, fencing and lighting; and creating clear access to the wells.
A Public Service Commission engineer, Zeke Sushko, affirmed that Dr. Edwards completed the repairs but missed specified deadlines.
Dr. Edwards' arguments did little to placate residents or state officials.
A spokesman for the Department of the Environment called Dr. Edwards' reaction predictable but said the department maintains that the facts in the order are correct.
"It was obvious Dr. Edwards would disagree with a number of things in the order, and we realize he has the right to appeal," said Michael Sullivan, the department spokesman. "But our position remains unchanged."
Customers had no water June 2, June 3, June 15 and June 18 because of a burst pipe. They were notified by state environmental officials that their water was contaminated with fecal coliform bacteria -- the bacteria found in sewage -- that can cause diarrhea, cramps, nausea, possible jaundice, headaches and fatigue.
Four restaurants in the plaza were ordered by the Health Department to close their doors during the water outage.
Residents doubt officials
County health officials, who supplied water from a truck June 2 to June 6 and June 15, have assured the customers their drinking water is free of bacteria.
But many residents have their doubts and have continued using bottled water and boiling tap water since the beginning of June.
Frustrated customers aired grievances and sought answers Thursday night from County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann and representatives from several state agencies, including the health and environment departments and the Public Service Commission.
"They [state and county officials] are telling us we have to trust Dr. Edwards again, a man we have no faith in," said Campus Valley resident Becky Rojahn. "When are the laws going to start working for the people instead of for individuals like him?"
Mrs. Rojahn urged residents and business owners to band together to improve the group's chances of being heard.
"As a group, I think we can take a broader stand," she said, distributing envelopes addressed to the Maryland Public Service Commission for letters of complaint.
In response to residents' complaints, Mrs. Rehrmann said would ask the state secretary of the environment, Robert Perciasepe, to intervene if necessary.
County officials said they have no plans to extend the county water system to the Campus Hills area because doing so would be extremely costly and time-consuming.