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Knock-Out Punch on Way??
Commentary by Joe Reynolds

Still battered and bruised from a Worcester County beating that saddled Ocean Pines rate payers with about $5 million of debt for a sewage plant expansion that some feel wasn't even needed, the County Commissioners appear intent on delivering a knock-out punch with further expansion of water and sewage outside Ocean Pines.

Sewer Czar Dennis Escher delivered his long-awaited report on the Ocean Pines water system to the County Commissioners on July 5th. Escher's "executive summary" to the Commissioners recommends two options for the Ocean Pines water system -- one a $5.15 million package, the other tipping the monetary scale at $5.9 million.

The "cheaper" alternative involves pumping water from Riddle Farms up to Ocean Pines. The other would require a $1.2 million water treatment facility to remove heavy iron deposits from a well into the deep Manokin Aquifer. This is the same iron-laced aquifer used by Riddle Farms.

It is perfectly clear the County appears more interested in providing water for outside development interests than protecting the interests of Ocean Pines ratepayers. Some of the information provided by Escher seems to be designed to support a predetermined decision to subsidize development rather than taking a hard look at keeping Ocean Pines rates as low as possible while maintaining the current high drinking water quality.

For example, Escher essentially dismissed the possible availability of high quality Pleistocene Aquifer water (our current water source) from wells now used to water golf courses. In the rarefied air of government it makes more sense to expensively treat iron-laced water for drinking, while dumping large volumes of high quality water on golf courses.

After Escher's presentation to the County Commissioners, County Director of Public Works John Tustin was asked if the County had fully evaluated the availability of that golf course water. The answer was NO. Judy Boggs threw scare tactics into the mix, envisioning some disaster for the south side of Ocean Pines if a main broke. Deputy Public Works Director John Ross quickly dispelled the disaster scenario. Commissioner Bud Church urged some common sense. He said to Boggs, "If the main breaks, you fix it."

Things are also going from bad to worse for ratepayers on the Ocean Pines sewage treatment facility, again in the name of expanding the sewage treatment plant to service areas outside the Pines.

Months ago the County said it was going to request an expansion of the current plant to 2.5 million gallons per day (mgd) of treatment capacity to serve areas outside Ocean Pines. The current capacity will be about 2.3 mgd, enough to handle the needs of Ocean Pines alone. The County brought Pennington Commons into the Ocean Pines facility on the promise it would seek and obtain a permit from the Maryland Department of Environment (MDE) for the expansion to 2.5 mgd. If that expansion is not granted by MDE, Ocean Pines ratepayers will be saddled with a $1+ million price tag to pump Pennington Commons sewage from the Ocean Pines sewage treatment plant back to a spray irrigation site on Pennington Commons property. As of July 5, 2005 the County had not even applied to MDE for the expansion permit.

As if that was not bad enough news, the County says the delay is intentional, as it may now request an expansion to 3 mgd, allowing another 2,000 or more homes outside Ocean Pines to be brought into the Ocean Pines sewage treatment plant. Finally, adding insult to injury, the County is now throwing out the idea of an Ocean Pines plant dumping 4 million gallons per day into the St. Martin River, potentially raising the number of homes outside Ocean Pines to as high as 6,000!

John Tustin, asked if the County had physical room on the current site for such plant expansion, said he didn't know.

The County Commissioners, the OPA Board of Directors, and even environmental groups have acquiesced as the Ocean Pines ratepayers took a beating, all in the name of environment protection and supposed "Economy of Scale." Economy of Scale is a fancy term the government uses to convince people bigger government involvement means cheaper rates.

As for the environmental impact, the treatment capability of the Ocean Pines plant is indeed impressive. Water flowing from the plant may well be some of the cleanest of any facility in the state. The County Commissioners, OPA Board and environmentalists, however, don't want to talk about the total impact of Ocean Pines sewage on area waters. It seems many of the sewage holding tanks scattered all around the Pines leak. In wet weather we pay to treat millions of gallons of rain water; during dry periods untreated sewage flows from the tanks into the ground and eventually makes its way into our tidal waters.

Asked if County Public Works had a handle on the TOTAL environmental impact of the Ocean Pines subdivision on area waters, Tustin said the County did not.

You probably won't see much coverage of the bad news in area papers. What you will see is news that the State of Maryland has exempted the Ocean Pines plant from the state flush tax. This will save ratepayers about $30 per year. Good news indeed. However, no one should be tricked into believing the overall news out of Snow Hill is good for Ocean Pines on the water and sewage front. Brace yourself for the coming knock-out punch.

Uploaded: 7/5/2005