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City pumping millions of gallons of sewage into stream

July 23, 1998

photo: KEVIN G. GILBERT / staff photographer

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water pollutionBy LISA GRAYBEAL / Staff Writer

Over the past five years, the city of Hagerstown has pumped an estimated 50 million gallons of waste water into Hamilton Run with permission from the state Department of the Environment, according to monthly reports filed to the state by the city's Water Pollution Control department.

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Although much of the discharge is storm water runoff, the waste water pumped into the stream that flows into Antietam Creek contains a "component of sewage," from overflowing septic systems, said Rick Thomas, the city's Water Pollution Control manager.

"It's improper to call it raw sewage ... It's a very diluted overflow," Thomas said.

Hagerstown resident and business owner Rodney Renner said he only recently learned the city was pumping waste water into Hamilton Run, which flows behind his house.

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"Nobody gave me any knowledge to keep the kids out, or dogs, or anything," Renner said, who's worried the tainted water could be harmful.

Environmental officials said there's little cause for concern and there's no threat to the public drinking water supply, said Quentin Banks, spokesman for the state department of the environment.

Environmental officials have not noticed any dead fish downstream in Hamilton Run since the city began pumping waste water into it, Banks said.

Some residents who live near Hamilton Run say that after a heavy rain, they can smell a sewer odor and it's not uncommon to see toilet paper and other waste in the water or stuck in fields or yards.

City water employees are sent out to clean up "floatables," defined as visible solid waste like toilet paper, after dumping into Hamilton Run, Banks said.

The workers also treat the areas with lime, he said.

At the end of May, four years after the city began pumping waste water into the stream, city officials posted signs at Magnolia Avenue, Pangborn Park, Funkhouser Park and Municipal Golf Course warning the public to avoid contact because the water is "subject to contamination."

A consent order the city of Hagerstown has with the Maryland Department of the Environment allows the city to pump waste water into the stream to prevent sewage backups in several North End homes after heavy rains.

In May, the state gave the city a 175-day extension, allowing it to continue pumping waste water into Hamilton Run until late February.

The extension gives the city more time to solicit bids for the proposed three-phase, $2 million project to fix or replace deteriorating sewer pipes, Banks said.

The sole bid on the project came in $1 million too high, delaying the start of construction and forcing city officials to seek other bids.

The city is expected to be in compliance with the consent order by the time it expires next winter, but the entire project probably won't be done until spring, Thomas said.

"The city knows they've got a problem. It's a long-term problem that's not going to be solved overnight," Banks said.

Renner said he felt the state was being unfair, considering the Department of the Environment in June filed suit against a Leitersburg dairy farmer.

In the suit, the agency alleged that Garry B. Shank accidentally pumped about 40,000 gallons of cow manure and waste water into Marsh Run in July 1997.

In the suit, the state asks that Shank be ordered to pay $10,000 and to immediately implement measures to divert storm water away from a particular storage lagoon.

"They're using him as a scapegoat," Renner said.

Banks said the lawsuit developed because Shank "chose to ignore" paying a $5,000 civil penalty for the spill which killed more than 1,000 fish.

"There's a difference between dealing with the city and dealing with Mr. Shank," Banks said.

According to the lawsuit, the environmental department in July 1997 received a citizen's complaint about dead and dying fish in Marsh Run near Hagerstown.

The citizen also complained that Marsh Run and the confluence with Antietam Creek had a strong manure smell, extensive thick white foam covering much of the area, and water that appeared dark, the lawsuit says.

An investigation by state environmental department officials found the source of the discharge was Shank Farms at 19413 Longmeadow Road, court documents allege.

While pumping manure from the farm's waste lagoon to be spread as fertilizer, Shank left the pumping operation site unsupervised, and returned to find the discharge pump nozzle had rotated away from the lagoon and about 40,000 gallons of liquid manure had discharged into Marsh Run, according to allegations contained in court documents.

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