Project to prevent massive sewage backups begins at Back River

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (left) and Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz shake hands at the Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant. The officials, joined by Mayor Catherine Pugh, kicked off a three-year, $430 million project there on Thursday.

Officials kicked off a three-year, $430 million project on Thursday that will eliminate miles-long sewage backups that lead to overflows into the Jones Falls and the Inner Harbor.

The so-called "headworks project" at the Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant in Dundalk will add pumps to move backed-up sewage and water into holding tanks, especially during storms when sewage and rainwater overwhelm the system.


The cost of the project is being split between Baltimore City and Baltimore County, which share responsibility for the region's water and sewer systems. The sewage plant is located in Dundalk, but is owned by the city.

Mayor Catherine Pugh said the headworks project will fix "a very stubborn problem."


"We take this very seriously," she said. "We know what a difference it will make."

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz said the project is an example of "regional cooperation and problem-solving."

The headworks project is scheduled to be completed by 2020. Meanwhile, work continues on an enhanced nutrient-reduction upgrade that will result in less nitrogen and phosphorus in the water that comes out of the plant. That's largely funded by the state Bay Restoration Fund and the "flush fee" that property owners pay.

Gov. Larry Hogan praised both projects, and also announced that his administration is moving forward with a $330,000 midge eradication project on the Back River in Baltimore County.

Hogan and Kamenetz have feuded over the project, which Hogan says will bring relief to boaters, residents and marina owners who are troubled by the small bugs. But Kamenetz has said it's short-sighted to spend money on a temporary fix when reducing nutrient flow to the river is the root cause. He's declined to contribute county money to the project.

Hogan issued an executive order on Thursday directing his agencies to do the work.

"We've heard the outcry of local residents loud and clear and we're stepping in to answer their call for action," Hogan said.

Kamenetz was not impressed. "It's like spraying a can of Raid on the river," Kamenetz said in an interview. "It doesn't solve the underlying problem."


Kamenetz, a Democrat, is considering a run for governor next year. Hogan, a Republican, is expected to run for re-election.