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."
"The governor does see letters and is aware of what comes in, what they are about and how many there are," said Raquel Guillory, spokeswoman for the governor. "He will look at the citizens' concerns and discuss them with Secretary Nishida."
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."
Copies of the petitions will be delivered to the county commissioners, the governor's office and the leaders of several neighboring jurisdictions.
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."
Rich McIntyre, spokesman for the Department of the Environment, said the Piney Run project is "a really old issue."
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.
"Obviously, a public hearing would take place once the permit application is received," McIntyre said. "A hearing is the traditional mechanism for public input."
That would be too far along in the process for those who oppose the plant.
They have asked the 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.
"We are not asking for a hearing so that we can listen to the commissioners," Davis said. "We want them to listen to us."
Liberty Reservoir alternative
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. I think they at least are open to what people in South Carroll want."