Kent Is­land sewer line wins ap­proval

Public works board votes 2-1 for plan that some op­posed be­cause of cost, sprawl risk

Baltimore Sun - - NEWS - By Michael Dresser mdresser@balt­sun.com

A hotly con­tested plan to ex­tend sewer lines to south­ern Kent Is­land to re­place fail­ing sep­tic sys­tems got a green light Wed­nes­day from the Mary­land Board of Public Works.

The board voted 2-1 to ap­prove the $34 mil­lion project to con­nect 1,518 ex­ist­ing homes and eight com­mer­cial prop­er­ties to Queen Anne’s County’s public sewer sys­tem. Gov. Larry Ho­gan and Trea­surer Nancy K. Kopp voted to ap­prove it. Comp­trol­ler Peter Fran­chot dis­sented.

Pro­po­nents, in­clud­ing Queen Anne’s County govern­ment, said the sewer line is needed to re­place sep­tic sys­tems that are in many cases al­low­ing nox­ious odors and dangerous pathogens to rise to the sur­face. They said the fail­ing sep­tic sys­tems also al­low pol­lu­tants such as ni­tro­gen to flow into the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay.

Op­po­nents told the board the sewer line will open the door for ex­ces­sive de­vel­op­ment in the low-ly­ing area of Kent Is­land south of U.S. 50. They also ques­tioned the cost of the project, say­ing there are less ex­pen­sive ways of ad­dress­ing the prob­lem of fail­ing sep­tic sys­tems.

The ap­proval came af­ter pre­sen­ta­tions by sup­port­ers an­doppo­nents of build­ing a sewer line on the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay’s largest is­land.

Ho­gan said the project is needed to ad­dress the needs of is­land res­i­dents.

“There’s like rivers of fe­ces flow­ing through their yards and into the bay,” the gover­nor said. “It is an en­vi­ron­men­tal prob­lem that is threat­en­ing the health of the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay and our cit­i­zens.”

Kopp said she had toured the area and had found the fail­ing sep­tic sys­tems “odor­if­er­ous” and “rather gross.”

Lynn Buhl, rep­re­sent­ing the Mary­land Depart­ment of the En­vi­ron­ment, said south­ern Kent Is­land is a place of low wa­ter tables, small lots and highly per­me­able soil. It is, she said, “not op­ti­mal for sep­tic sys­tem us­age.”

With wa­ter lev­els ris­ing be­cause of cli­mate change, the area will be “even more un­suit­able” for sep­tic sys­tems, she said.

Crit­ics, in­clud­ing Fran­chot, ex­pressed con­cern that the sewer line could al­low the de­vel­op­ment of an ad­di­tional 600 homes in a low-ly­ing area that is vul­ner­a­ble to those ris­ing wa­ter lev­els.

Jay Fal­stad, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Queen Anne’s Con­ser­va­tion As­so­ci­a­tion, ac­knowl­edged that there is a prob­lem with fail­ing sep­tics but ques­tioned the pro­posed so­lu­tion.

“We be­lieve the county is try­ing to fix one prob­lem but cre­at­ing a much greater one,” he said. “We do be­lieve there are al­ter­na­tive so­lu­tions that are less costly that should be ex­plored.”

The long-sought sewer project ran into trou­ble this sum­mer when cost es­ti­mates came in al­most 30 per­cent higher than ex­pected. But the Ho­gan ad­min­is­tra­tion stepped in to help the county with a $32 mil­lion loan with an in­ter­est rate as low as 0.6 per­cent. Part of the state’s plan is to give the county a $15 mil­lion Bay Restora­tion Fund grant to help pay off that loan.

TheQueenAnne’s com­mis­sion­ers de­cided to ac­cept the help and to charge res­i­dents $100 a month for 20 years for their share of the cost.

That could prove to be a good deal for the south is­land res­i­dents. Queen Anne’s Com- mis­sioner Jim Mo­ran told the board that prop­erty val­ues in that area have been de­pressed by about 30 per­cent as a re­sult of the sep­tic prob­lems.

Mo­ran and other county of­fi­cials es­ti­mated that about 80 per­cent of the sep­tic sys­tems in south­ern Kent Is­land are fail­ing, but Fran­chot ques­tioned that as­ser­tion. He said there might be about 40 homes that are caus­ing most of the prob­lems and sug­gested the fail­ing sep­tic sys­tems could be fixed at a much lower cost.

“This is a very ex­pen­sive project,” Fran­chot said. “Do we spend $33 mil­lion to open up South­ern Kent to sprawl de­vel­op­ment?”

Usu­ally an ally of the Repub­li­can gover­nor, the Demo­cratic comp­trol­ler was out­voted when Kopp, a fel­low Demo­crat, joined Ho­gan.

State Sen. Stephen S. Her­shey Jr., a Repub­li­can who rep­re­sents Queen Anne’s, wel­comed the vote.

“It’s been an is­sue for a long time and I’m glad to see they’re rec­og­niz­ing the en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact the cur­rent con­di­tions have,” he said.

Mo­ran said the project will take about seven years to com­plete.

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