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City officials say stopping spills is top priority

August 15, 2004|by JULIE E. GREENE

julieg@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - The day after the City of Hagerstown's latest spill of partially treated sewage into Antietam Creek, Mayor William M. Breichner and three City Council members said fixing the situation is their top priority.

Councilman Lewis Metzner wants citizens to know: "Money is not an issue. Overflows into Antietam Creek are not acceptable."

Up to 4 million gallons of wastewater that had not been disinfected were dumped into Antietam Creek on Friday after electrical equipment failed, city officials said.

It was the second time this month that the city released water that had not been disinfected into the creek.

Both spills were caused by the switch gear equipment shorting out, city officials said.

The city also has spilled partially treated sewage into the creek due to other causes.

"I would say that this is the number one priority for all of us, for the whole city, and it has been," Councilwoman Carol Moller said. "It's just unfortunate for this to happen, and to happen one right on top of the other before (they were able to get it fixed)."

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"Bottom line is we're all citizens. We all live here," Metzner said. "Putting millions of gallons of sewage into the Antietam Creek is just totally unacceptable."

The switch gear problem temporarily has been fixed, but the cause of the short needs to be determined so the problem can permanently be fixed, Breichner said.

Breichner said the council will be asked Tuesday to approve hiring three more workers for the Water & Sewer Department and equipment to find where water is seeping into the sewer system.

Storm water infiltration into sewer pipes that are broken or have loose joints is one of the things causing overflows, Breichner said.

"That is the long-term problem," Breichner said.

Two years ago, the city hired a contractor to use meters to look for infiltration spots, but there wasn't enough rain to find the leaks, Breichner said.

In the next 12 to 15 months, a $5.4 million project will increase the city's pumping capacity, which should help avoid some of the overflow-causing backups, city officials have said.

Councilman Kristin Aleshire said he has been told the sewer plant has capacity for more units to hook onto the system, but he thinks city officials should develop a priority list for who gets that capacity.

Councilwoman Penny Nigh had no comment Saturday.

Councilman Linn Hendershot could not be reached for comment.

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