Until a state appeals court reaches a decision on permit requirements, the Carroll County commissioners will postpone and possibly scrap a $2 million project that would have installed cooling equipment at the Hampstead Wastewater Treatment Plant.
The plant discharges treated water, or effluent, into a stream known as Piney Run. The discharge cannot exceed 68 degrees if the county is to remain in compliance with its permit issued by the Maryland Department of the Environment in January.
During the warm-weather months, the plant violated the permit requirements more than 30 times when the temperature exceeded 68 degrees. MDE imposed fines of as much as $1,500 a day.
The commissioners considered the purchase of air-cooled chillers that would cool the water a few degrees before it is discharged and keep the plant in compliance. The project would have to go to bid soon to be in operation before the warm weather returns.
"Obviously, we are not going to make that expenditure at this time," County Attorney Kimberly A. Millender said yesterday. "I can't imagine that the appeal will be decided before next summer. The judge has given us a year at least."
Carroll Circuit Judge J. Barry Hughes recently granted the county's request to stay the imposition of fines and the enforcement of the permit for one year, or until a decision by the Court of Special Appeals.
The Circuit Court ruling eliminated more than $100,000 in fines, Millender said.
In an opinion dated Nov. 20, Hughes wrote that enforcing compliance during an appeal would render the county's right of appeal meaningless.
"The court's ruling will help us come up with the additional time we need to gather the data that the state requires," said Commissioner Perry L. Jones Jr. "I think we can prove there are more fish than ever and that the chillers should be put on hold."
County officials hope to persuade MDE to modify its temperature limits for the treated water by submitting scientific data gathered about the health of the stream and its flourishing brown trout population.
In effect, the county will continue operating the treatment plant under its old permit, which does not stipulate temperature requirements.
The county Public Works Department will move forward with plans for the equipment should it be needed in the future.
"At this time, we will not build, but we will go ahead with plans and try to get permits from MDE," said Douglas Myers, county director of public works.
In Baltimore County, where Piney Run becomes Western Run and flows into Loch Raven Reservoir, a group of residents has filed a lawsuit to force Carroll County to abide by the stricter temperature requirement.
G. Macy Nelson, attorney for the Baltimore County residents, has said repeatedly that the residents will not back down.
"We will move aggressively to accelerate the [court] process," Nelson said yesterday. "The county assumes this will be dragged out. We will push for a ruling, and then the county will be on the hook next summer for the permit. They are proceeding recklessly at their own risk."
If the court rules against Carroll County and the chillers are not in place, the county could face daily fines for temperature violations. Eventually, the county will have to "chill the effluent or move the plant," Nelson said.