A $7.7 million upgrade to the county's water treatment plant in downtown Havre de Grace should reduce operational costs, enhance the water supply and meet the latest environmental standards, officials said.
Plans call for a nearly 3,000-square-foot, three-story addition adjacent to the St. John Street plant, which draws its water from the nearby Susquehanna River.
The addition, which will take about 18 months to build, will house equipment that can dry the silt and other solids removed from the water during the treatment process.
"It will provide a more economical way to handle sludge and a safer way to operate the plant," said Joel V. Caudill, deputy director of the Harford County Department of Public Works. "This is an important and necessary component of a treatment plant, and we cannot manage without it anymore."
The new equipment will increase plant capacity, allow for continual cleaning of filters and save on hauling costs. Haulers will be able to pull up to the building and have the dried sludge dropped into their truck beds, officials said.
It currently costs more to transport the wet sludge, and trucks must make frequent runs to a county facility in Perryman, because the Havre de Grace plant lacks storage space.
"There is a real operational benefit in removing the water here," Caudill said. "It's treated sludge and can go from here onto farm fields as a fertilizer."
The county's Havre de Grace plant, the smallest of three that the county relies on to supply about 42,000 homes and businesses, has a capacity of 6 million gallons a day but treats about 4 million gallons on an average day. The city of Havre de Grace's plant, next door to the county facility, can treat as much as 4 million gallons a day.
About 10 percent of the water drawn from the Susquehanna ends up as sludge or river mud, which must be discarded.
"This expansion has to happen for the safety and welfare of the people of this county," said County Executive David R. Craig, a lifelong resident and former mayor of Havre de Grace.
A heavily used municipal parking lot and a plot of grass separate the facility from the river. Surrounding the site that was once the city's public works yard are several restaurants, small businesses, an American Legion Post and shops that rely on the lot to serve their patrons.
Construction will close down the nearly 60-space lot, which, with typical turnovers, can handle about 300 vehicles on summer Saturdays.
"This is the heart of Havre de Grace," said Daniel W. Lee, owner of MacGregor's Restaurant, located across a driveway from the plant. "This closing could mean hundreds won't park and shop here."
The fences went up at the construction site late last month, cutting off parking. Construction began the last week of February and came to a halt late Monday, when the city issued a stop-work order.
City officials cite safety issues, saying that fencing off the waterfront hampers access to several neighboring buildings. Merchants said the lack of parking threatens their livelihood and employment in the city.
The county immediately asked the courts to lift the city's order. A Harford County Circuit Court judge has asked the city and the county to resolve their differences so the much-needed project can move forward.
For most of last week, attorneys for both parties tried to hammer out a resolution that would allow some parking and at least a one-way driving path.
The county is committed to the project but willing to help the city, Craig said.
"The real issue is a lack of parking," he said. "So much traffic is a sign of vitality, and we want to sustain that vitality."
Negotiations, which included the contractor, focused on how to save parking, phase in the work and make space for a roadway.
"We are trying to make this project as compact as possible," Caudill said. "We want to minimize the impact to the city while ensuring that the contractor can do the work."
The ideal solution would be to relocate the plant, but that would cost an estimated $100 million, officials said.
Keith Sappington, who bought the Tidewater Grille in September and was looking forward to a booming summer business, said the scarcity of parking could translate to the loss of two busy seasons for his restaurant.
"We will be done, if we don't see sales," said his partner, Ralph M. Shapot.