Carroll County's wastewater treatment plant in Hampstead has not harmed fish living in a feeder stream to Piney Run, state officials have concluded.
The plant discharges treated water into the stream, which originates in Hampstead. Baltimore County residents sparked a border feud two years ago when they filed a lawsuit against Carroll County, alleging the effluent overheated the water and killed the fish in violation of the federal Clean Water Act.
Piney Run "supports wild brown trout and an assemblage of stream fish that are generally representative of trout streams in Maryland," Charles R. Gougeon, regional fisheries manager, wrote in a four-page report on the stream.
His findings were based on one day -- Aug. 2, 2000 -- of study, a typical practice for this type of research report.
"It is our opinion that the brown trout population in Piney Run is self-sustaining and very healthy ... in spite of a record drought [summer of 1999]," Gougeon wrote. "We suspect that a consistent water discharge from the [treatment plant] may have been key to maintaining ample stream flow during the adverse drought conditions, thereby averting significant mortalities associated with low flow."
Carroll County Attorney Laurell Taylor presented the results of the state study to Carroll commissioners yesterday. Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge said she was pleased by the news. Her colleagues on the board, Commissioners Donald I. Dell and Robin Bartlett Frazier, did not comment.
The plaintiffs' attorney, G. Macy Nelson, said the findings did not change his clients' case.
"It was and is our thesis that thermal discharge from the plant has thermally degraded the area between the plant and Trenton Mill and Trenton roads, which are about two miles downstream," he said. "Had Carroll County not been discharging heat into the stream, the population of trout at Trenton Mill and Trenton roads would go all the way up to the plant. All they found in that area was two fish, and on the basis of that they are saying this is a healthy trout population. I would have to disagree."
Litigation has been under way since 1998, when Baltimore County residents filed the federal lawsuit against Carroll County over the treatment plant.
In February, Senior U.S. District Judge Joseph H. Young ruled in favor of the Baltimore County group, and ordered that Carroll County pay a $400,000 fine for violating the federal Clean Water Act on 183 days by releasing hot effluent from the plant into the headwaters of Piney Run.
The discharge of effluent in excess of 68 degrees Fahrenheit threatened trout and the water supply for 1.5 million people in Baltimore County, plaintiffs said. The county was ordered to pay the plaintiffs' fees and was barred from releasing effluent that is more than 68 degrees. The county appealed to the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va. A date for oral arguments has not been set.
The Baltimore County group asked Young to enforce his ruling, a request the judge denied.
"By letters written in March, 2000, I intended to convey to counsel that I would take no further action in this case until the Fourth Circuit had resolved the appeal," Young wrote in his ruling Monday. "Plaintiff's motion to enforce the injunction makes it clear that the parties did not understand the effect of those letters."