People complaining about potential environmental hazards from a wastewater treatment system needed for an expansion of Glenelg High School should be ignored, says County Councilman Charles C. Feaga, a western county Republican.
"Those people were anti-growth in the extreme, and some are only recently here," Feaga told a meeting of County Council and school board members Wednesday. He was describing testimony at a state environmental hearing he attended Monday night at the school.
The state must issue a permit for the treatment system before the addition can be built.
"Their testimony should have gone in one ear and out the other," Feaga told the group during a quarterly meeting held at school board headquarters.
But 22-year Glenelg resident Mary Jane Grauso, whose seventh-grade daughter will attend Glenelg, said Feaga "is out of touch with his constituents." He is partly responsible for overdevelopment, she said, because he supported increased density via 3-acre residential rural zoning years ago.
The wastewater pipe the county is proposing would traverse a stream that feeds into the Triadelphia reservoir, she said.
"What happens if that breaks? I understand there's a need for the school. ... We want to make sure that some kind of guarantee is going to be given that the Maryland Department of Environment will monitor the system."
County school officials have been trying for five years to build a badly needed addition. The school is 27 percent over capacity this year, with 1,237 students, and has four science labs instead of the nine in most high schools. The expansion plan calls for raising the capacity by 400 and adding labs.
Bill Brown, director of school construction, said at the meeting Wednesday that he believes state officials will give permission for the latest proposal - a wastewater treatment facility shared with a 30-home subdivision planned on the old Musgrove farm behind the high school.
"There really weren't any substantive issues raised at the hearing, but under the best of circumstances, the approval process is slow," he said.
"I don't really think they are that intense about it," he said about people who worried about sewage spills and the effect on the Triadelphia reservoir.
Critics of the county's plan may appeal if the county gets the permit, but Brown said he feels that is unlikely because of the expense required to hire a lawyer and prepare a case.
School board member Patricia Gordon said after the meeting that if the addition is delayed further "it will be really unfortunate. The result is a lot of very unhappy people."
County Council Chairman Guy Guzzone, a North Laurel-Savage Democrat, said several people have suggested bringing piped city water and sewerage out to Glenelg. But he said that would have the opposite effect.
"We have held the line on sewer and water to keep development out," said Guzzone, who added that placing public utilities in the western county would bring more development and further damage to the environment.
Courtney Watson, the school board chairman, said the treatment facility would be safer for the area's drinking water than wastewater that seeps into the ground from septic systems.
But she warned the council that the fuss over Glenelg signals a wider worry over wastewater treatment throughout the western county where there are no public sewer and water pipes.
Other county schools, such as the new Dayton Elementary and at Bushy Park - where a much larger elementary is planned to replace the mid-1970s structure - also have septic system problems, she said.
If the Glenelg addition is pushed back, some students would have to be assigned to other high schools, she said.
Watson also gave an update on the planned Northeast elementary school off Montgomery Road in Ellicott City. A groundbreaking ceremony will be held next month, though Brown said access issues with the State Highway Administration have yet to be resolved. Construction should start by July, he said.