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City adopts sewer allocation program

June 22, 2005|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

HAGERSTOWN

gregs@herald-mail.com

The Hagerstown City Council on Tuesday moved one step closer to setting long-term limits on sewer system usage, limits that potentially could affect the speed of local development into the next decade, including possibly putting a hold on plans for Washington County Hospital.

The council voted 5-0 Tuesday night during its monthly voting session to adopt the city's Sewer Capacity Allocation Program, meeting a July 11 deadline.

The next step will be for state environmental officials to review the plan before it can take effect.

An 11-page document explains how the plan manages sewer capacity for new homes and businesses and how the plan would change when there are further upgrades to the sewer system. The program could last as long as 2011.

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The plan divides the types of new building projects into two main categories. Building projects that have been approved by the city or county planning commissions by Jan. 12 are considered "existing development," and ones that have not yet been approved are considered "new development."

The categories are allowed different amounts of sewage capacity, which is measured in the number of gallons per day used by sewer system customers. City officials say an average home uses about 200 gallons per day in sewer system capacity.

Under the plan, existing development - including projects in both the city and the county - would be allowed a total of 180,000 gallons of daily sewage capacity a year, or the equivalent of about 900 new homes.

Of that 180,000 gallons, existing projects in the city are allowed 60 percent, or 108,000 gallons. Existing county projects would receive the remainder.

The city could extend up to 120,000 gallons per day in capacity to new development each year under the plan, or the equivalent of about 600 new homes per year.

Under the plan, the 120,000 gallons are further divided into several categories. The city would keep a 20,000 gallon "discretionary reserve" that the council could use for special projects throughout the year.

The remaining 100,000 gallons for new development would be divided into city and county projects, with the city taking 75 percent and the county taking the remainder.

While there are several housing projects that are included in the plan, there is no clear plan to provide sewer capacity to Washington County Hospital, which is expected to need about 240,000 gallons per day.

A state commission approved the hospital plans last week, but several local issues remain including sewer capacity. Councilman Lewis C. Metzner publicly has called for a meeting between city, state and county officials to settle the matter.

City Water and Sewer Department Manager David Shindle and Washington County Hospital spokeswoman Marina Shannon said Monday there have been informal discussions but no formal meetings.

In a voice mail message, Shannon said hospital officials "look forward to a meeting, and we would like to sort this out."

The sewage capacity plan is a requirement of a January consent judgment, which is a legally binding agreement between the city and the Maryland Department of the Environment.

The consent judgment was the result of months of negotiations after repeated failures by the city's sewer system. Those failures included spills into Antietam Creek of wastewater that had not been fully treated.

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