The county commissioners decided yesterday to build a $12 million treatment plant at Piney Run Lake and pump as much as 3 million gallons a day from the man-made reservoir in Sykesville.
The board voted 2-to-1, with Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge dissenting, after a review of cost estimates on three options for improving the water supply in South Carroll, which has been troubled with seasonal shortages the last three years.
Building Piney Run and continuing to draw 3 million gallons a day from Liberty Reservoir, owned by the City of Baltimore, was the least costly option. A larger plant at Piney Run and an expanded plant at Liberty Reservoir were also considered.
Gouge wanted to delay the vote until public hearings were held. She prefers expanding the Liberty plant in South Carroll - also known as the Freedom District and often simply referred to as Freedom - and increasing the daily draw there, both of which require the city's approval.
"This says our minds are made up and that is how we are moving," she said. "Let's listen to the people for a change."
Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier, who has pushed for the Piney Run plant, said she wanted to get the project off the ground as soon as possible. Public hearings, planned for early this fall, will inform taxpayers how they will pay for the project, but they will get no input on construction options.
"Basically, anybody can come in and tell us what they think," said Frazier.
Water hookup fees, estimated to cost $6,602 for every new home built, will pay for $8 million of the construction costs. Maintenance fees - an average $183 per household annually - are expected to pay the remaining costs. About 6,700 customers currently use the county system.
"These system improvements need to be done and will benefit everyone," said county comptroller Gene Curfman.The decision to build at Piney Run could end months of Carroll County's bickering with Baltimore and the state, both of which control options for more water to serve the county's most populous area. Frazier has said several times that she does not want to beg other jurisdictions for water.
Commissioner Donald I. Dell told South Carroll residents last month that the county needed Piney Run and might as well "bite the bullet."
Construction could take about three years. In the meantime, a high-yield well, to be built along Route 32 in Sykesville, could provide a much-needed cushion. The state issued an appropriation permit for the well last week.
The well could pump as much as 340,000 gallons daily into the system. The 12-year permit limits the county to an average of 227,000 gallons daily from the well.
"We can run at maximum use when needed in June, July and August and then turn the well off for a while to stay at average use," said Gary Horst, county director of enterprise and recreation services.
South Carroll now relies on water drawn from Liberty Reservoir and is limited to 3 million gallons a day. Negotiations to double that allocation and expand the Freedom treatment plant are stalled by the county's refusal to ratify a longstanding agreement to protect the watershed from development.
Gouge wants Carroll to continue negotiating with the city.
"We should pursue the City of Baltimore and sign the agreement with them," said Gouge. "We could reissue our contract for another 48 years and draw another 3 million gallons a day from Liberty. It is foolish to let this drop.
"We could always have a backup and we would not deplete Piney Run," she said.
Dell wants to make Piney Run the primary source of drinking water for South Carroll, home to nearly 30,000 residents. He asked administrators to "dust off old plans" for Piney Run. Those designs were scrapped four years ago in favor of expanding the Liberty Reservoir operation.
"Piney Run will probably become the dominating supply and we will supplement with Freedom," Dell said.
Gouge argued that Liberty is the much larger body of water and said she feared pulling too much water from Piney Run and disrupting the recreational activities.
The commissioners have discussed the options before, but, Gouge said, "This is the first that I have heard that the Freedom plant will be a backup."