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Town Considers Moratorium on New Homes

Vic Bradshaw
Frederick News Post

The town’s board of commissioners supposedly entered Monday night’s meeting planning to stunt growth. They came out talking about temporarily eliminating it.

A moratorium on sewer-line extensions in the town appears to be the commissioners’ latest plan. They asked Michael Lucas, the town planner, to get his recommendation put into ordinance form and set a workshop to discuss it next Monday at 7:30 p.m. at the town office. The apparent goal is to reach a consensus at that meeting so the measure can be voted on in February.

That turn was the latest in the meandering path taken as the commissioners try to reduce the amount of sewage being pumped into the town’s collection system. Due to serious infiltration and inflow (I&I) problems, the wastewater treatment plant regularly exceeded its design-capacity limits over the past year and spilled untreated sewage 11 times.

While the moratorium would ban extensions for new projects, it appears that developers will get to build out Southgate and the first phase of the Brookfield subdivision. Because sewer lines have been run or approved for those projects, they wouldn’t be affected by the ban.

In addition to passing a moratorium, Mr. Lucas determined the town should contract a study of the sewer system, require mitigation stormwater connections tied into the sewer system, and prepare a capital improvement plan for the system prioritizing the greatest needs.

Going into Monday’s meeting, the board appeared set on finalizing the terms of a Managed and Sustainable Growth Plan. The temporary plan would have limited the amount of residential construction allowed in the town in a given year.

But when Mr. Lucas presented his analysis of the collection system, the focus shifted. The planner told the board the wastewater treatment plant exceeded its design capacity almost one of every five days over a one-year period. In one instance, the plant treated 3.2 million gallons in a day, four times its capacity. "Adding (connections) to a system that has a huge I&I problem doesn’t make sense," Mr. Lucas reasoned.

Because the moratorium, as planned, would exclude the Southgate and Brookfield projects under way, the town may dodge potential legal action from two developers.

During public comment, Tom Carolan, whose company is building Southgate, reiterated that severe restrictions on building would ruin him financially. Chuck Karfonta, who is affiliated with the partnership building Brookfield, asked the board to honor an agreement reached with the town when the company allowed a right of way through its property to run a sewer line to the Pembroke subdivision.

John Kerekes, an attorney with experience in environmental issues, told the board that Emmitsburg could be fined up to $50,000 a day if it was found to be in violation of the Clean Water Act. Before the town added hookups, he said, it must see that it has the capacity to accept the extra volume. "We’re facing an immediate disaster," said Bill O’Neil Jr., who followed Mr. Kerekes. "We can’t further exacerbate the problem."

Discussion of the issue took more than two hours, including a 25-minute closed session in which the board queried John Clapp, town attorney.

Read other news stories related to the Emmitsburg Town Government