Smithsburg sewer pumping station to be replaced

November 06, 1997


Staff Writer

SMITHSBURG - Washington County officials spent $189,000 in 1993 on a sewer pumping station that will be abandoned as soon as next year because it is too small and plagued by maintenance problems.

In another example of the kinds of decisions that led to the current $56 million water and sewer debt, the now-defunct Washington County Sanitary Commission approved the pumping station at Smithsburg Village Shopping Center.

"Hindsight's always 20/20, but obviously it was shortsighted to do so," said Public Works Director Gary Rohrer, whose department took over the sanitary commission in 1995.


The pumping station will be replaced by a larger station to be built near the Beaverbrook subdivision.

The new station, at an estimated cost of $1.17 million, will be built over a span of eight months after the county finishes negotiating right-of-way agreements with property owners, he said.

It will serve 220 customers, including the shopping center and 83 homes in Cavetown. That waste water now goes through the smaller pumping station.

Beaverbrook pumping station has the potential to serve 810 customers if the surrounding land is developed.

Rohrer said Beaverbrook was planned before the shopping center as a more efficient way to handle the area's waste water.

But when developer Abbud Dahbura proposed the shopping center, it created an immediate need for public sewer.

Since Cavetown also needed sewer to fix a public health problem, the county kicked in $189,000 for the pumping station.

The pumping station also has been plagued by maintenance problems, Rohrer said.

It will be the first county pumping station that has ever been abandoned, to the best knowledge of county water and sewer employees.

Smithsburg-area developer Doug Bachtell said such poor planning hurts responsible builders who pay for the cost of public water and sewer up front.

Rohrer stressed that the Smithsburg water and sewer projects have been planned for a long time.

"This is already factored into the water-sewer debt. This doesn't add more debt," he said.

The $56 million debt has been blamed on poor planning and overconfident predictions, according to a July 1996 study by the Maryland Department of Fiscal Services.

From 1991 to 1995, water and sewer rates did not grow fast enough to support the cost of adding onto the system.

Also, the Conococheague Wastewater Treatment Plant did not cover operating expenses.

Commissioner Ronald L. Bowers said he was not aware that the Smithsburg pumping station was to be shut down. He said he believes some of the equipment there can still be used.

He defended its construction.

"It was needed for environmental protection," Bowers said.

Hooking up the Smithsburg area to public sewer has proved to be a costly undertaking.

The Cavetown project requires expensive grinder pumps at each hookup because the terrain will not allow for a gravity flow system, Rohrer said.

That is a problem that even a new pumping station won't fix, he said.

Grinder pumps cost $2,805 per household and need expensive maintenance in as few as four or five years after they are installed.

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