The state's top environmental official predicted that it's a matter of time until Aberdeen wins its fight to tap into Deer Creek for its drinking water, a debate the official characterized as solid science vs. environmental emotionalism.
"We're going to make our decision here based on science and not on feelings," Secretary of the Environment Kendl P. Philbrick said Friday.
"Science supports that Aberdeen's plan will have no adverse impact on the stream. I'm optimistic that my fellow commissioners will see it my way," he said.
Philbrick said he will vote against a coalition of environmentalists and farmers when Aberdeen's request comes before the Susquehanna River Basin Commission early next year.
Philbrick, a member of the commission, also oversees the Maryland Department of the Environment, which has approved Aberdeen's request.
The river basin commission was scheduled to vote on the Aberdeen plan next Tuesday, but the vote was postponed because an advertisement of the meeting never ran in a local newspaper, Philbrick said.
Commission bylaws require the public be notified 20 days before a critical vote, he said.
The debate focuses on Aberdeen's plan to draw up to 4.9 million gallons daily from the creek for the city's estimated 5,000 water customers.
Aberdeen already taps Deer Creek for Aberdeen Proving Ground, a military base that contracted with the city for water services.
Farmers and conservationists say Aberdeen is exaggerating its need for a second water source to support development.
Landowners along the creek, which runs from York, Pa., into Harford County and eventually the Susquehanna, for years have used the creek to water their farms and nurseries, and they say Aberdeen's plan would jeopardize their livelihood and harm aquatic life.
Philbrick dismissed those fears. He said numerous environmental studies prove the creek would not be harmed under Aberdeen's plan.
The Deer Creek Watershed Association and Harford County have both appealed to the MDE to reverse the department's approval of Aberdeen's permit.
Should the MDE decision be overturned, any vote by the river basin commission would be void, a commission spokeswoman said.
Even with a commission vote next year, Philbrick, in his second year on the commission, said he expected further appeals.
"Aberdeen and the [state environmental] department are prepared that this could take a while, maybe a year or two, to work it through," he said.