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Council defers to state on hospital flow-transfer pact

November 09, 2005|by DANIEL J. SERNOVITZ

HAGERSTOWN

daniels@herald-mail.com

Fearing reprisals from the state, the Hagerstown City Council decided Tuesday not to let city staff work with the Washington County Commissioners to resolve one of the final roadblocks in Washington County Hospital's plan to move outside the city limits.

"Are we implying our support of it or should we wait and see what (the Maryland Department of the Environment) does?" City Attorney John Urner asked the council during its work session Tuesday. To wait, he said: " that seems to be the best course for the city."

The MDE previously imposed a consent judgment on the city following several years of failures at its Pump Station 13 treatment plant. One of the main requirements of the judgment is the city cannot issue more than 120,000 gallons of sewer capacity per year in new allocations until it completes certain projects to improve its ability to treat wastewater.

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The hospital uses about 150,000 gallons at its Antietam Street facility in the city, and hospital officials have estimated they would need at least 130,000 initially at the new facility by Robinwood Medical Center.

A specially formed 2+2 committee consisting of two city council members and two members of the County Commissioners recently developed a flow-transfer agreement calling for the city to provide 150,000 gallons-per-day of sewer capacity for the proposed hospital. In return, the county would give the city an equal amount of capacity from its Conocheague Wastewater Treatment Plant.

The commissioners sent a letter to the city on Oct. 11 asking the council to let staff members at the city and county work to develop a formal agreement. Urner said the city could face repercussions if it endorses the agreement without waiting for MDE to either support or reject it. He said to be safe the city should simply send the hospital's plans to MDE for consideration, and if it wants to it can include the proposed agreement as an accompanying document.

"MDE, in their wisdom, can take that information into consideration if they want to," he said.

The consent order requires the city to send any plans requiring more than 120,000 gallons of sewer capacity to the MDE for review. At Urner's suggestion, council decided not to sanction city-county talks and to submit the hospital's plans, and the accompanying agreement, to MDE instead.

The ultimate fate of the agreement, even with MDE support, remains in question. Councilwoman Penny May Nigh said even with assurances from city staff she fears the agreement would reduce the city treatment plant's overall capacity.

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