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State offers alternative for sewage discharge; Hampstead plan's impact on Piney Run area feared


Six months after the Court of Special Appeals rejected a move to allow an increase of 400,000 gallons per day in sewage discharge from the Hampstead Wastewater Treatment Plant, state environmental officials are considering a plan to allow the increase -- with strict temperature regulations.

Officials of the Maryland Department of the Environment outlined the plan at a public meeting and hearing yesterday on the proposal to allow the plant to discharge up to 900,000 gallons of effluent daily.

A final decision is expected within a month.

Dispute bridges two counties

The state's proposal is the latest move in a battle between Carroll County officials and a group of preservationists from Baltimore County over the sewage treatment plant -- located in an area of dense development, yet next door to rural homesteads that flank the trout-rich Piney Run watershed.

Piney Run flows into Western Run, part of the Gunpowder Falls watershed, the source of drinking water for about 1.5 million metropolitan Baltimore residents.

Carroll County officials have for years sought to increase the amount of effluent the plant can discharge each day as the town of Hampstead has grown.

Those efforts have been met with bitter protest from Baltimore County neighbors, who say flow from the plant has caused erosion and other environmental damage that includes threats to spawning trout.

Last summer, the Court of Special Appeals nullified an attempt by Carroll County to increase its allowed daily flow after the court faulted MDE for failing to consider water temperature in granting a permit modification. The matter was remanded to MDE to conduct tests to determine the impact the added discharge would have on water temperature.

During yesterday's meeting, MDE officials proposed establishing a new temperature threshold for the plant, which Jeffrey L. Rein, deputy program manager for the department's wastewater permit program, said fits "tighter standards" -- and voids the court's mandate for temperature tests.

Carroll officials have agreed to install a $1 million refrigerator tank at the plant to cool the treated sewage before it is flushed out, said Mike Evans, county director of the Department of Public Works.

"We're saying forget [the testing] and meet the [68-] degree requirement to make it clear and straightforward and for maximum protection," Rein said. "We're not getting into a debate. We'll be fully meeting the requirement with this."

G. Macy Nelson, attorney for the Piney Run Preservation Association, disagreed.

"What they ought to do is shut the plant down until they can come forward and get a permit to discharge heat," Nelson said. "They've got a legal obligation to comply now -- and they're not.

"This is an illegal decision."

Today, the plant discharges an average of 545,000 gallons of effluent per day into the stream, county public works officials say.

That amount has "proven to be a monumental mistake," said Jack Dillon, director of the Valleys Planning Council, an influential Baltimore County land preservation group.

"Hampstead's request to increase the permitted discharge from 500,000 gallons to 900,000 gallons per day without first complying with the order of the Court of Special Appeals is in our opinion irresponsible," Dillon testified.

Environmental officials said, however, that they are confident that their proposal would more than meet the court's criteria.

Conflicting directions

Last year, the state awarded $3 million in Rural Legacy funds to Baltimore County's Piney Run area to preserve its natural beauty.

Miles away, Hampstead's growth area is a stark contrast. Town officials said last summer the court's decision could jeopardize construction of 560 homes and efforts by the county to win major employers because development plans have been approved in the belief that sewage treatment capacity would be increased.

The MDE originally approved the increased flow request, and an administrative law judge and Baltimore County Circuit Court upheld the decision, based in part on testimony from environmental experts who concluded that the presence of trout in the stream indicated Piney Run was healthy.

One month later, the Piney Run Preservation Association filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Baltimore against the Carroll County commissioners, alleging violations of the federal Clean Water Act. A trial has been scheduled for November, Nelson said yesterday.

Pub Date: 2/18/99

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