Depending on which Washington County Commissioner you listen to, the Conococheague Wastewater Pretreatment Facility is either an $11 million gamble gone wrong or a diamond in the rough that just needs some polishing. As is usually the case, the answer is probably somewhere in between.
Despite a series of warning signs, in 1993 the county board went ahead with plans for the $9 million facility, hoping it would draw new industry. But the only full-scale marketing effort fell apart when Dave Barnhart left his job as a coordinator for the Economic Development Commission in 1994. It now runs at a loss, and was one factor in this year's tax increase.
One bar to new customers is a condition attached to the bonds which financed the plant, stating that firms using the facility can't pump their waste in, but must transport it by truck instead.
The other is that because there weren't contracts signed with industries before the plant was built, the plant's treatment process couldn't be tailored to specific industries. That forced the county to turn away its major customer, Mack Trucks, because its emulsified oily waste was causing major damage to the plant.