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Water: a costly necessity


The talk of the state may be the proposed 78,600-seat football stadium in Laurel, but, for the residents of neighboring Bacontown, there are more important items on the agenda. Like water. And sewers.

For nine years, leaders in the community of 16 houses and 14 trailers near the Laurel Race Course have been trying to hook up to public water and sewer lines, and get rid of the decrepit wells and septic systems they say are in constant need of repair.

Sherry Williams of Arundel Community Development Services Inc. -- which contracts with the county to administer state and federal development grants -- came to Mount Zion United Methodist Church last week to deliver the good news.

"I'm real excited to be here," she told a dozen residents in the community room.

"We are finally able to offer you water and sewer, thank God."

But it won't be cheap.

While two grants totaling $1 million will save residents a special tax assessment for building the project, owners will still have to pay to extend sewer and water lines from the road to their homes.

That means shelling out $3,795 for water lines and $3,345 for sewer lines -- not including the cost of hiring a plumber for interior house work.

And, to make matters more intimidating, as many as eight trailers do not have any indoor plumbing; residents walk to the church to get their water and use the bathrooms. For them, the cost of hooking up could be daunting.

Ms. Williams said it could cost anywhere between $2,000 and $20,000 to bring these homes up to code, although aid programs could defray the cost.

Homeowners will have no choice but to abandon their wells and septic system once the project is built.

Since the community petitioned the county for this project, once the lines are installed under Whiskey Bottom, Spring and Oak roads, every homeowner must hook up.

Over the next several months, employees with Arundel Community Services Inc. will be working with every resident to get an idea of what they can afford. At a meeting last Thursday, they explained several payment options to ease the burden.

"Try not to get too concerned with the numbers right now," said Kris Dougherty, another employee of Arundel Community Development Services. "We will be meeting with you individually. Based on what we have done in other communities, we can work out some good deals."

Under one option, homeowners over 60 with a household income of less than $25,000 a year can defer almost all charges until ownership of the property transfers.

Officials said that most Bacontown residents may fall into this category.

Officials also said they plan to inspect most of the Bacontown homes to ensure that they are up to code.

"There is no sense giving you water if your roof is leaking," Ms. Williams said. "We will be doing a complete review to make sure that your house is safe."

Despite the cost, Audry Garnett, president of the Bacontown Civic Association and a community resident for 17 years, said she can't wait to get public water.

"I'm dying to have it," she said. "I've waited long enough. Well water is good. We have had no problems. But it's not the same thing."

She said residents may save money in the long run by hooking up to the public system.

She said that she has replaced her well twice in the last several years, at a total cost of more than $5,000.

Bill Lesko, an engineer with the Anne Arundel County Department of Public Works, said the design should be completed by January and project could go out to bid in February. He anticipates construction to start in May and be finished six months later.

He said the water and sewer project must be coordinated with nearby Russet, a 3,000-home development under construction in back of Bacontown, which agreed to widen Whiskey Bottom Road as a condition for approval.

The two grants funding the project are a Housing and Urban Development Block Grant for $500,000 and a grant of $578,000 from the Maryland Department of the Environment.

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