Water plan work stalled


First, Carroll County decided to revise its water and sewer master plan to win the Maryland Department of the Environment's approval for a proposed water treatment plant at Piney Run Lake near Sykesville.

Then the county's planning department, at the behest of the commissioners, began writing amendments to the master plan to incorporate changes the state said were needed.

On Feb. 11, the county held a public hearing on the changes.

But yesterday, the commissioners said they intend to scrap all 62 pages of amendments that the county staff spent three months preparing - a decision that will dash any hopes that the contentious $15 million plant would be operational before 2005. Instead, the county will concentrate on a comprehensive update to the master plan, which the state requires periodically of every jurisdiction.

"That is our plan, regardless of all this garbage you write," said Commissioner Donald I. Dell, expressing his frustration while addressing planning staff yesterday.

He later added: "Let's just drop the amendment and concentrate on the master plan."

Dell said that the copious revisions made for arduous reading and that the plan, as written, included provisions for watershed management and environmental safeguards - two of the issues the state mentioned as needing to be revised in several letters rejecting the proposal for the plant.

The staff said the decision will set the plant project back at least 180 days.

"We could push the state" to approve the permits for the plant, said Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier, who supported Dell's motion yesterday to scrap the amendments.

"They won't move," said Dell.

The state department will not consider county designs for the plant or issue a construction permit for it until it first approves Carroll's updated water and sewer master plan. Groundbreaking on the plant, which will take about two years to build, is delayed indefinitely.

"Maybe it is stupid to send the state revisions when we are sending the entire plan in May," Frazier said. The staff went too far with the revisions, she said.

"What we wrote [as revisions] sounds good, but is more than we need right now," Frazier said. "We only needed to address the things MDE targeted."

Planners could not condense the revisions, which had to encompass several parts of the plan and provide a history of the county's watershed management practices, said James Slater, the county's environmental compliance specialist.

"If we send the state something inadequate, they will bounce it back if things they want to see aren't in there," Slater said.

Slater and his staff said they will consider letters, e-mail and public comments gathered at the Feb. 11 hearing when revising the master plan to meet the May deadline. The comment period for the changes considered at the public hearing was in effect through yesterday, so the commissioners will not officially vote on Dell's motion until their next meeting.

County planners expect to have a new master plan to the state by mid-May - after another public hearing and provided the planning commission and commissioners approve it. The Department of the Environment then has 90 days to review the document and could possibly extend the review for another 90 days.

"The state can always say we are not meeting their criteria," Slater said.

Frazier and Dell have pushed for the Piney Run plant for nearly two years as the solution to the seasonal water shortages that afflict South Carroll, the county's most populous area. They have authorized more than $1 million in expenditures preparing for the project as they faced opposition from the state and mounting public criticism.

They also have consistently opposed Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge in her efforts to build wells to augment the water supply.

The persistent dry weather and predicted summer drought will mean South Carroll endures water restrictions this summer and probably next, officials have said. During the Feb. 11 hearing on the proposed revisions, residents repeatedly asked the county to proceed with well construction at least as a stopgap measure.

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