Frustrated residents of a Fallston neighborhood, who have been trying for several years to get public sewer service to their homes, may have to wait a little longer, county public officials say.
“We realize there’s a problem … we want to get to a point where we can present a plan to the community,” Billy Boniface, County Director of Administration, told a group of about 40 residents last week
Boniface and Public Works Director Joseph Siemek discussed the findings of an engineering and capacity assessment for the Fallston Sanitary Subdistrict with the group.
Boniface even suggested that plan would be ready within six months to a year, although the prediction was greeted with a fair amount of skepticism from those gathered Dec. 18 at the Veronica Chenowith Activity Center. Several said their neighborhoods have been passed over, while other new developing areas along Belair and Harford roads have received service.
Most of those in attendance were from the Woodridge Manor neighborhood of about 104 single family homes off of Whitaker Mill Road south of Route 1. The homes sit on one-half acre to one-acre lots and the majority have private septic disposal systems to get rid of their sewage, some that are failing.
Several residents of the community said they face expensive repairs or replacements with no guarantee the problems won’t return. At least one home was condemned because no suitable solution could be made, they said.
“I’m stuck; I can’t move,” said one person, who did not give his name.
The cost of a new septic system can run tens of thousands of dollars, provided the lot’s soils can accommodate it. If not, the only other solution, other than public sewer, is to install an in-ground holding tank and have it pumped out monthly, which is equally costly.
Stephanie Taylor, a Woodridge Manor resident, said she filed a petition to receive public sewer service to the community more than two and a half years ago, but Taylor said the county put her off, telling her the neighborhood wasn’t eligible for service because most of it was outside the sanitary subdistrict boundaries.
Meanwhile, the county has continued to approve sewer connections for some 300 apartment units at Belair and Old Joppa Roads, commercial connections for several businesses and for several new single family houses being built along Harford Road. Those came on top of the dozens of villas that were connected in the development behind Walmart on Belair Road, just a short distance from Woodridge Manor.
Boniface and Siemek insisted, however, that those connections were proper and many had been essentially reserved for decades by the owners of those properties.
Under county regulations, public sewer or water service can be extended to an area, if more than half of those who would be served sign a petition, which also obligates them to pay for the new sewer lines and related facilities, such as pumping stations, if needed.
But the process has been overly “complicated” in this instance, Boniface explained, because of the particular location.
Public water and sewer can only be extended to areas inside a legislatively designated growth area, known in Harford County as the development envelope, according to county law.
Then, once that occurs, places that would receive their service through the sewer main lines coming west from Bel Air in the Route 1 corridor have to be within the boundaries of the Fallston Sanitary Subdistrict. Those boundaries also are set legislatively by the County Council.
Boniface said this process was set up decades ago by prior county executives and county councils. He pointed out that during the Harford Next Master Plan process two years ago, the development envelope boundaries were extended to include Woodridge Manor and some other areas bordering the subdistrict, including houses along Route 152 between Bel Air and Harford roads and a portion of the Aumar Village Shopping Center property that was not within the envelope.
Councilman Joe Woods, who represents Fallston and who attended last week’s meeting, said he had worked to get the development envelope boundaries extended and pledged to do the same in the coming year with the subdistrict boundaries. Councilman Mike Perrone also attended the Dec. 18 meeting.
Woods said the development envelope is only reviewed every eight years and the sanitary district is only reviewed every six months. He said he is aware of the existing petition and would be expediting the latter process.
Complicating matters is the need for capacity upgrades before new connections can be made within the subdistrict, according to Boniface and Siemek.
The County hired Whitman, Requardt & Associates to perform a comprehensive engineering study of the subdistrict and surrounding area within the development envelope and what improvements would be required to accommodate additional sewer connections.
A summary of the engineering firm’s findings was discussed at last week’s meeting and a full report is posted on the county’s website.
According to the summary, rehabilitation of existing mains and pumping stations is needed at various locations at an estimated cost of $2.4 million. Additional upgrades also are needed to serve the areas expected to be taken into the subdistrict, with an estimated cost of $1 million.
The engineering firm also said the county will have to upgrade the Plumtree Run sewer system and pumping station closer to Bel Air, which takes the sewage from Fallston. No cost estimate was provided, but Siemek said some of those costs would be spread among other users since the Plumtree system covers a much wider area.
Whitman, Requardt said it is still studying how all these projected improvements would be funded, such as grants, bonds, developer contributions and user fees.
Typically, the cost of main line improvements is recovered through connection fees. The fee for a standard residential connection is $9,000. If service is extended to their neighborhood, Woodridge Manor residents would be required to pay the connection fee.
They would also be required to pay the annual benefit assessment, which covers the cost of building the sewer lateral lines within their streets and any related facilities. The total cost of construction is typically divided by the number of properties served and then prorated over the life of any bonds sold for construction, plus applicable interest, DPW representatives explained.
The homeowners would be responsible for hiring plumbers to run lines from the county lines to their dwellings, as well as the cost of taking their septic systems out of service.
Siemek and Boniface said nothing would happen unless 50 percent of the property owners in a given area to be served sign a petition that they want the service. This prompted some people present to ask what would happen if the lines were built, but they didn’t need or want the service.
In such instances, Boniface said, they would have to still pay the annual benefit assessment, but could opt out of connecting, provided their septic system was still properly functioning.
A lot of the costs involved are yet to be determined, both county officials said, and while Boniface said a plan for service might be six months away, he couldn’t say when construction could be complete and people could begin to hook up.