A citizens' group wants the state's environmental agency to put off deciding whether to allow the Hampstead sewage treatment plant to expand until an administrative law judge rules on their challenge to it.
The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) rejects their proposed delay.
Members of the Piney Run Preservation Association, about 175 Baltimore County families, reiterated their arguments against the plant discharging any additional treated effluent into Piney Run at an MDE hearing yesterday in Westminster. The stream runs from Hampstead through Baltimore County and into Loch Raven reservoir.
"Why are people anti-government? Because government doesn't protect us," said Dorothy Rowland, owner of an Upperco horse farm. She said the stream has eroded its banks so they are nearly vertical, and she no longers lets her horses drink the water.
The MDE is shutting out the community's viewpoint by considering Carroll County's request to treat and discharge 900,000 gallons a day before the administrative law judge rules, said C. Victoria Woodward, the association's attorney.
The Hampstead plant is operating under temporary state approval to discharge 700,000 gallons a day, although the limit written on its permanent permit is 500,000 gallons a day.
Jeffrey L. Rein, head of the state Water Management Administration's National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit program, said no more pollutants would enter the stream from the Hampstead plant at 900,000 gallons per day than at 500,000 gallons per day.
"There was no reason to sit on the whole permit while they contest the changes," Mr. Rein said. If the MDE approved the permit to include the expansion and the administrative law judge ordered some changes, the agency would make them, he said.
Association members have asked the judge to return the plant to the 500,000-gallon-per-day limit or require a full public hearing process for the increase, which was not done when the MDE allowed Carroll County to raise the discharge limit to 700,000 gallons per day.
They also want the judge to require the county to repair stream damage.
"We've written some tight limits, some of the tightest in the state," for nitrates and phosphorus that the plant would be allowed to release into the stream, Mr. Rein said. The MDE writes its permits for pollutant levels, he said, not the number of gallons discharged into a stream.
Many of the Baltimore County residents who live along the stream described "green slime," bubbles and foam in the water. They said water quality had deteriorated during the 15 years of the Hampstead treatment plant's operation.
But Frank A. Bonsal Jr. said he has seen improved water quality in a stream joined by Piney Run. "It seems to me that Western Run has improved since my youth," he said.
Spokesman Quentin Banks declined to speculate on when the MDE might act on the county's request. Decisions on permits vary by the amount of material in the record, he said.