South Carroll residents opposed to the county's plan to build a $14 million water treatment plant on Piney Run Lake in Sykesville are hoping that a petition drive and letter campaign will persuade Gov. Parris N. Glendening to quash the project.
Members of the Freedom Area Citizens Council, an unofficial liaison between South Carroll and county government, are spending the holiday weekend gathering signatures on a petition against the proposed plant. The county wants the plant to augment the water supply in South Carroll.
The council, which is sponsoring the petition drive and letter campaign, has about 1,000 signatures on a statement opposing the project and calling for a referendum. Members plan to be at shopping centers and grocery stores for the next few weeks.
"We are hoping for at least 2,000 more signatures," said Nimrod Davis, vice chairman of the council.
Council members are handing out more than 500 copies of a letter with a similar theme. They ask residents to sign the one-page letter and mail it to Jane T. Nishida, secretary of the Maryland Department of the Environment.
The letter urges Nishida to "reject any future application for a construction permit to build a water treatment plant at Piney Run Lake."
South Carroll, home to about 30,000 residents, has seasonal water shortages. Since 1997, water use has been restricted during three summers.
"When they run out of water, they will change their minds," said Commissioner Donald I. Dell. "I am not at all surprised at this action."
"Based on the information we have," he said, "Piney Run is the best decision for the county. How can people who don't have all the facts set themselves up as experts? They need water. They carried on when we had to put bans on."
Mike Naused, president of the citizens council, said he doubts that the petitions will change the commissioners' stance but added, "I think all these signatures will prove invaluable in the court of public opinion. This will let everyone know we are opposed."
The county has an appropriations permit to draw up to 6 million gallons a day from the 2 billion-gallon lake. It needs a construction permit to proceed with revised plans that call for a plant that can treat 3 million gallons daily.
Opponents have asked the county commissioners repeatedly to hold a public hearing on their decision to build the plant. The commissioners promised such a hearing nearly two months ago but have not scheduled one.
Dell and Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier voted nearly a year ago to build the plant. Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge, who dissented, wants to expand the county's treatment plant at Liberty Reservoir and double the daily draw from there, to 6 million gallons.
The letter says residents "are convinced that Liberty Reservoir offers a much more preferable source of drinking water." Many fear that a treatment plant would have an adverse effect on Piney Run Reservoir, which was built 30 years ago and is a popular recreation spot.
"Most people who have heard all sides of this issue don't want a plant at Piney Run," Donna Slack of Eldersburg said.
"But, if you live down here, you don't feel like anyone in the county is listening," she said. "I hope that the state will hear us."