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State says hospital issue 'local'

January 19, 2006|by DANIEL J. SERNOVITZ

daniels@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - The Maryland Department of the Environment declined to weigh in on a sewer-capacity agreement that could make it possible for Washington County Hospital to move from within Hagerstown to property off Robinwood Drive outside the city limits, a department spokesman said Wednesday.

"It's a local decision," MDE spokesman Richard McIntire said. "They have to decide who gets what and when ... as long as they don't violate the consent agreement, as long as they don't put any undue stress on the Hagerstown plant."

The city entered into a consent judgment with the MDE last January in response to problems at the city's wastewater treatment plant. As part of the judgment, 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 judgment also requires the city to forward any site plans requiring more than 120,000 gallons per day of sewer capacity to the MDE for review and approval.

Hospital officials have said the current facility on Antietam Street uses about 150,000 gallons per day and that they would need at least 130,000 gallons per day initially at their proposed facility by Robinwood Medical Center.

During private "two-plus-two" meetings between two Hagerstown City Council members and two Washington County Commissioners, a plan emerged under which the city would grant the hospital its sewer capacity. In exchange, the county would give the city the same amount of capacity at the county's treatment plant.

Asked to review the proposal, City Attorney John H. Urner said in a letter dated Nov. 1, 2005, that he felt the MDE's consent judgment prohibited the arrangement. To be safe, he recommended the city ask the MDE to review it and decide whether to approve or deny it.

In a letter the city received Jan. 12, MDE Water Management Administration Director Robert M. Summers said the city has the discretion to allocate capacity to new development as it sees fit and that the MDE does not have any say over agreements the city reaches with the county.

Hagerstown City Councilman Kristin B. Aleshire said the city has tried to comply as closely as it can with the MDE's consent judgment. He said he feels Summers' letter jeopardizes the city's efforts because it suggests the MDE will allow some projects to go through and prevent others.

Aleshire said city council will have to discuss the letter at a future work session to determine how the city will proceed.

Washington County Commissioner James F. Kercheval said he expects it will not take long to draft a formal agreement once the city and county are committed to entering into one.

James Hamill, president and chief executive officer of Washington County Health System, which owns and operates the hospital, said he was pleased by the letter, though he felt Summers' position was consistent with what MDE officials have said in the past about the agreement.

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