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Sewage treatment formula could delay new home building

May 13, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

If state environmental officials adopt a formula proposed by Hagerstown to determine its sewage treatment capacity, a potential state-imposed moratorium on new sewage connections and building permits in the city next spring could be averted.

A moratorium could delay new home building, City Water and Sewer Department Manager David Shindle said last week.

The City Council last week authorized Shindle to pursue the new formula with the Maryland Department of the Environment.

Shindle said if the state enforces its own formula when it makes its annual determination of sewage treatment capacity next March, it would show the city's sewage system is beyond its capacity.

"We would be in big trouble," Shindle said.

MDE spokesman Richard McIntire said last week that imposing a moratorium is rare in water and sewer issues.

"We reserve the right to use that authority, but it's not done that often," McIntire said.

He said that governments are given some flexibility to show they are on top of growth issues, and that it sounds like Hagerstown has begun taking care of its problems early.

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Shindle said MDE calculates the city's reserve capacity by taking an engineer's determination of how much sewage the system can handle and subtracting the amount of sewage estimated to come through the system. The estimate is based on an average of previous years' flows through the treatment plant.

According to MDE's calculation, the city this year can take on another 1.6 million gallons a day of sewage without running into problems, Shindle said.

The potential problem will come next year, when treatment statistics from 2003 will be used to calculate the system's remaining capacity. Because there was a large increase of sewage flow due to heavy rainfall last year, the MDE calculation will project the city to be beyond its capacity by nearly 1 million gallons a day, Shindle said.

While it's not clear if MDE will enforce its formula next year, "they're aware of our problems," Shindle said.

Shindle's proposed formula, which considers a different set of data than the state formula, would put the city's reserve sewer capacity back into safe levels next year.

Shindle said sewer treatment system upgrades in the next few years will increase the system's capacity. The city plans to add treatment facilities, replace older pipes and add a pipe that will divert some sewage to the county's treatment plant.

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