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City questions county sewer capacity

May 19, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

Washington County officials said they were confused by a Hagerstown City Council straw poll Tuesday night in which the council nearly refused sewer connections to new homes and businesses outside city limits.

Although the City Council only minutes later restored a limited amount of sewer capacity to the county in a second poll, "I was certainly shocked, considering there was no formal discussion on this whatsoever," Washington County Commissioner James F. Kercheval said just after the City Council's action Tuesday night.

The city's sewer system serves customers in city limits and customers outside the city.

Kercheval said the city had not made it clear to county officials how soon the county's allocation of sewer capacity would run out.

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The confusion comes from the interpretation of a 2002 agreement between the county and the city, County Director of Water Quality Greg Murray said.

The agreement is based on the amount of reserve sewer capacity determined by the Maryland Department of the Environment. Using a formula, that department determines each year how much more sewage can safely be processed by the city's system.

City Water and Sewer Department Manager David Shindle has said that because of the way the formula is calculated, the city will have no reserve capacity next year.

Shindle said Tuesday that MDE officials have said they will consider a plan to change that formula, which both Shindle and Murray said they consider flawed.

But, according to the city's interpretation of the 2002 agreement with the county, the county has used its allocation of the city's sewer capacity.

Murray said he interprets the 2002 agreement with the city to mean the city should allow customers in the county an additional 400,000 gallons of sewage this year.

When Shindle presented a plan to the council to give the county 50,000 gallons of reserve capacity - which he said would equal the amount of sewer used by about 250 homes - the council refused by a slim vote to approve it.

City Council members Kristin B. Aleshire, N. Linn Hendershot and Penny M. Nigh, who said they wouldn't approve the measure, briefly overrode members Lewis C. Metzner and Carol N. Moller.

Aleshire said he felt that with the construction of more than 3,000 homes planned in the city over the next few years, the city shouldn't grant the extra sewage capacity.

Metzner said, "An unnecessary moratorium is not a positive thing."

City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman was joined by Metzner in a call to provide half the proposed allocation, or 25,000 gallons, to give the county some sewage capacity. The council agreed, and requested further discussion with the county.

Murray and Kercheval said that, had the city blocked the new sewer allocation, it could have halted construction on more than 800 new homes to be built this year.

Murray said if the county gets the 25,000 gallons of sewer capacity, that would allow about 125 new homes, or roughly three months more of construction at current rates.

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