Carroll officials will survey Bark Hill Road residents to determine whether they would allow the county to bury a pipeline across their properties to carry sewage from the illegally built wastewater treatment plant at Francis Scott Key High School to Union Bridge.
Although county officials are making the proposal, they expect residents to oppose the idea of a pipeline carrying raw sewage or treated effluent beneath their front yards - a more than $1 million project. Tensions in the case are high, with some Bark Hill residents plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the county Board of Education, demanding removal of the treatment plant.
Carroll officials hope that opposition will persuade the Maryland Department of the Environment to approve a proposal the county has favored since taking over the bungled school project in April 1999: discharging treated sewage into nearby wetlands for which the school board has purchased easements.
"If there's a lot of negative response [to the pipeline], that will cement things with MDE and finally put to rest the Union Bridge issues," Douglas E. Myers, acting director of Carroll's Public Works Department, told the county commissioners yesterday morning. "If [the Bark Hill Road residents] say no, we'll have to scrap that whole idea."
School and county officials have been scrambling to find a place to release treated effluent from the plant, which was built without required environmental and construction permits and has sat idle since its completion in July 1998. Built to replace the high school's aging septic system, the $786,000 plant serves as a short-term holding tank, while the school system pays $5,600 a month to haul raw sewage from the school to the wastewater treatment plant at Runnymede Elementary near Taneytown.
Looking for a permanent solution to an expensive and embarrassing problem, county officials presented the state with a list of 20 options, including the proposed pipeline and a plan to discharge the effluent into a nearby stream.
MDE officials narrowed the list to a handful of options that remain under review. Department spokesman Rich McIntyre said yesterday the review process will take at least a few more weeks.
The least expensive option - the county's favored proposal of discharging treated effluent into 5 acres of wetlands - would cost at least $201,500 beyond the $786,000 spent to build the treatment plant. That's in addition to the hauling costs, which continue to accumulate on a monthly basis.
Without figuring in plant construction and hauling costs, the other option - pumping sewage through up to four miles of pipe from the school to Union Bridge - would cost $1.1 million to $1.4 million, depending on whether the county could use the treatment plant built at Francis Scott Key to process the waste or whether raw sewage would be piped to the town's facility for treatment.
The county plans to mail surveys to about 50 homes along Bark Hill Road, asking whether property owners "would be willing to grant the county an easement for a pipe on your property to transport either raw sewage or treated effluent to Union Bridge's wastewater plant." The survey states that choosing either option - yes or no - is an indication of a resident's inclination, and does not grant an easement, which would require a lengthy legal process.
Commissioner Donald I. Dell expressed concern about the phrase regarding raw sewage.
"That's going to knock them for a loop when they read that," he said.
But Myers said the possibility must be included - an acknowledgement that MDE still might not allow the county to operate the treatment plant.
Bark Hill Road residents John and Virginia Lovell, who own a farm adjacent to the high school, filed a lawsuit in March 1999, demanding that MDE order the plant dismantled and that it assess penalties against the Board of Education. The lawsuit is pending.