Hagerstown scoffs at price tag for reducing pollution to bay

June 12, 2012|By C.J. LOVELACE |

HAGERSTOWN — With Washington County municipalities facing $1.1 billion in suggested upgrades for wastewater, stormwater and septic systems by 2025, Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey had a incredulous reaction Tuesday to the city’s projected $210 million share to help reduce pollutants in the Chesapeake Bay.

“I applaud our governor for being so environmentally-friendly, but there is a price to be paid for that,” Bruchey said. “Being first in and making these laws that we have to abide by in the next 10 years is ridiculous.”

In February, representatives from municipalities across the county got together to form a committee to identify ways each could reduce pollution, caused mainly by runoff into local streams, as a way to reach goals mandated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Phase II Watershed Implementation Plan.

Bruchey chuckled when city engineers Jim Bender and Rodney Tissue talked about the issue — and it’s hefty estimated price tag — with the Hagerstown City Council during a work session.

Each county municipality has created a strategy that details ways to reduce pollutants from finding their way into the Chesapeake’s tributaries, but now the Maryland Department of the Environment is requiring every county to submit its own plan and statement of support by June 30.

Although $10 million in needed Hagerstown wastewater-system improvements have already been budgeted, the estimated $210 million for additional stormwater upgrades is just not financially feasible, city officials said.

Bender said the MDE commissioned a study by the University of Maryland, which ultimately put a dollar figure on various “best-management practices” to reduce pollutants such as planting trees or building filtration ponds.

“For each of those, they would give you an estimated cost, usually per acre, of land that’s being treated,” Bender said. “So we made some assumptions how much of one practice you could do versus another to get to a certain level of treatment. You add up all those individual costs, that ends up being that $210 million.”

Funkstown officials voted on Monday to continue doing what it could to reduce pollutants, but could not afford its estimated $4.1 million share to reduce nitrogen and phosphorous pollution making its way to the bay.

Hagerstown officials followed on Tuesday by acknowledging that it is a problem, but the city can only continue the strategies already approved through its Capital Improvement Project budget.

Those programs include street sweeping, tree planting and reforestation, developing additional stream-restoration projects, implementing an urban nutrient program on city-owned properties and finding ways to retrofit existing stormwater facilities to improve runoff water quality in areas that are currently undermanaged.

“It’s a frustrating thing, but in the same respect ... there was a time when the Chesapeake Bay was a pristine body of water,” Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said.

“For us to just make jokes about trying to get this bay back to where it once was, I don’t know the ability for this county to spend $1 billion over the time frame is really an achievable goal, but I do think that we all have an obligation to try to do something for our environment.”

Councilwoman Ashley C. Haywood said she would be encouraged if partnerships could be formed with the private sector to not only cut down on the city’s financial burden over the next 13 years, but to help companies reduce their own environmental impact.

Bender said about 20 percent of the city that didn’t have stormwater controls in place prior to the watershed plan will soon need them, naming anything that was built before 1985 as a potential target for improvement.

“You’re looking at trying to find places where you can capture runoff in those areas and treat it,” he said.

With all or part of six states and the District of Columbia draining into the largest estuary in the nation, the burden lies with more than just Marylanders, Bruchey said.

“No matter what the state of Maryland does, if our surrounding states that pollute our Chesapeake Bay and don’t take the same action, we’ll never get ahead,” the mayor said. “It’ll never be pristine again.”

A motion to approve the submission of the city’s plan with a statement to the MDE will be presented for the five-member council’s consideration at its meeting Tuesday, June 19.

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