Kent Island sewer line wins approval
Public works board votes 2-1 for plan that some opposed because of cost, sprawl risk
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.