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Going cheap on health: It didn't work back in '83

June 05, 2003

Someone will eventually get around to protecting citizens in the Boonsboro area from the effects of contaminated well water, but probably not before Washington County's elected officials get finished another round of pass-the-buck politics.

Local officials should address this quickly. If local history is a reliable guide, if it's left up to the state, the solution will be more complicated - and expensive.

On Tuesday the Washington County Health department told the County Commissioners that wells along the Old National Pike in Boonsboro are contaminated with fecal coliform, which could cause serious diseases. In all, health officials said, 80 homes and nine businesses and churches are affected.

Department officials propose to protect the public's health by having the county extend water and sewer lines from Boonsboro, at an estimated cost of up to $620,000.

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Boonsboro officials say they're willing to accept the new customers, but not pay the cost of the new lines, since the affected areas are outside the town limits. The commissioners said they didn't want to foot the bill because the customers would be Boonsboro's, and not the county's.

Commissioners' President Greg Snook said that "If the money's not there from the state...then I ain't going close to it."

So much for the public's health, apparently, with Snook indicating he's heard more from those who oppose municipal systems than from those who fear disease.

The county heard the same sort of protests from residents in the Huyetts Crossroads area in 1983 after the State of Maryland ordered the county to put the area on public water by 1984 after an oubreak of hepatitis.

The cost of that system began at $3.2 million, then quickly grew to $3.8 million, though the state did kick in $1 million, something that's unlikely to happen today.

To protect the public health - something that should be the commissioners' top priority - the state could order a system built for the Boonsboro area without providing a nickel to install it.

County officials should do the right thing now, before the state orders them to do something more expensive.

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