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State lifts sewer restrictions;
 town wants them to stay

Emmitsburg officials say sewer system limitations could control growth

Ashley Andyshak
Frederick News-Post

(8/8) State-imposed restrictions on the town's sewer system have been lifted, but officials say they want the limits to stay in place to help control growth.

Under a consent order imposed by the Maryland Department of the Environment in 2004, the town has been permitted to sell only 20 residential sewer system taps per year, Mayor James Hoover said.

The town has met the requirements of the consent order, which included improving the system to reduce sewage spills, and the restrictions were lifted last month, Hoover said at Monday's town meeting.

However, Hoover said the town used the consent order's restrictions to manage residential growth while making repairs to the sewer system and would like the limits to stay in place for a fewmore years until system rehab work is finished.

"We've used (the consent order) as a tool rather than a penalty," he said. "In some ways it is a penalty, but working with that is much easier than working against it."

Consent orders are imposed when municipalities pose an environmental concern or hazard, Hoover said. Recurrent sewer spills in the town prompted MDE to impose the tap restrictions three years ago. They were to be in effect until the town completed projects to minimize spills.

The town has met MDE's goal, Hoover said, but not its own.

Hoover said he is still concerned about heavy flows into the town's treatment plant during rain or snow storms.

The plant was built to handle 800,000 gallons of wastewater per day, and typically takes in only 300,000 per day, Hoover said. How-ever, rain and snow storms cause large amounts of water to flow into the plant, he said, and thetown wants to determine the physical source of this water before lifting sewer tap restrictions.

Town staff members are con-ducting a yearlong monitoring project, which Hoover said he hopes will reveal where the excess water is coming from. However, this summer's lack of rain has not helped the effort, he said.

According to town manager's reports, wastewater flow into the treatment plant exceeded capacity on 43 days throughout the past year. Nearly all were during months of above-average rainfall.

Four sewage spills occurred in the town during the past year, the reports state.

MDE officials are drafting a new consent order for the town, and Hoover said he'd like to see it limit new taps to 30-35 per year for the next two years.

Hoover said he hopes that keeping this number of taps avail-able will allow the town's South-gate and Brookfield developments to be completed within the nextseveral years.

About 65 homes are left to build between the two subdivisions, he said.

Hoover said little buildable land is left inside the town boundaries, so even without new restrictions, there is no immediate threat of dense growth unless the town approves an annexation. There are no development plans awaiting town approval, he said.

However, Hoover said limiting growth is a double-edged sword.

The town charges $22,000 for each water and sewer tap in an effort to fund system repairs and maintenance, and with little or no new growth, the town will have to increase rates for residents, he said.

Hoover said the town needs to take in $350,000 each year just to cover routine system maintenance, and that's if the system is in good working condition.

He also said he is not sure when MDE's draft consent order will be finished, or how long new restrictions could be in effect.

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