Septic tab hearing to resume


County officials are hoping a controversy over an innovative public septic system in the Clearview neighborhood of Edgewood has been resolved so that they can begin assessing participating households $238 a year for the service.

The septic system, which was installed more than three years ago at the request of the community, was paid for in part by federal and state grants. The county paid the balance -- $102,730 -- and was to be repaid by participating property owners over 25 years, beginning in January 1994.

But some residents complained of foul odors in their back yards and around a sewage pumping station in the area and balked at assessments when legislation to begin collections was introduced to the County Council in 1993 and 1994.

The council, which must approve assessment rates, responded by voting against the bills both times.

After legislation to institute the assessments was introduced in February for a third time, the first part of the public hearing was held last month before the council.

The hearing will continue Tuesday at 6:45 p.m. in the council chambers on Level A of the courthouse in Bel Air.

"As far as the county is concerned, we have done everything feasible to control the odors," Jackie Ludwig, chief of water and sewerage in the Department of Public Works (DPW), said late last week. "If there are any additional complaints, we will deal with them individually as we do our other customers."

She said that since residents complained, DPW workers have made several additions to the Clearview system to control odors, including installing soil filters made of mulch in low-lying areas and installing hydrants to provide water for washing down the septic areas.

Workers also have cleaned out all the septic tanks in the system and have added gaskets to the vent caps on the tanks.

"These people have been using the facility and benefiting from the system since 1991," Mrs. Ludwig said. "They have to start paying for it."

The county's water and sewer fund is self-supporting, and any cost borne by the county must be recouped through fees to users.

Clearview was one of six neighborhoods in a DPW plan to use federal and state grants to help finance the installation of public septic systems in areas not served by the county's conventional water and sewer lines.

The grants, designed to finance "innovative and alternative" projects, made improvements affordable to residents in areas with a history of failing septic systems, Mrs. Ludwig said.

The new system consists of a series of holding tanks for solid waste and drain pipes through which liquid sewage is pumped downhill into the county's public sewer lines. Every two or three years, the county will pump out the tanks and transport the waste to a county sewage treatment facility.

The original sewer petition for Clearview, which was approved by the council in 1988, called for each of 37 property owners in the neighborhood to pay an annual assessment of $168 for 25 years. After the system was installed, the residents' share computed to $238 a year, instead.

Public Works Director William Baker said, that while the final construction cost of $560,000 was less than had been estimated, the amount of grants received by the county -- about $460,000 -- was also less than anticipated, thus increasing the cost to the Clearview community.

"I think that most people's concern with the assessment was that it was higher than we originally thought it would be, although we knew that was just an estimate," said Cleta Norris, a resident of Holman Drive.

The new septic systems in the five others neighborhoods are operating and residential assessments have begun, Mrs. Ludwig said. Those areas are Swan Creek, near Aberdeen; Forest Greens in Perryman; Bush Road in Abingdon; and the Edgewood neighborhoods of Red Maple Drive and Dembytown/Hanson.

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