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Thurmont will pay state for
sewer plant failures

Chris Patterson
The Gazette

(4/14) Thurmont's Board of Commissioners approved an agreement Tuesday with the Maryland Department of the Environment, requiring the town to pay $6,750 in fines for violations related to the town's chronic sewer system failures.

The state laid out additional terms and fines if the town does not meet the requirements of the agreement.

The agreement states that until repairs are completed, the town may not allow new connections to the sewer system that would use more than 16,500 gallons per day.

Applying an average usage of 250 gallons per day for residential customers, only 66 residential building permits would be permitted per year, said Lynn Board, Thurmont town attorney.

If more than that is desired, the request must be approved by the state and the town would be required to include verification of additional capacity.

Under the agreement, the town has voluntarily stopped issuing permits "until additional repairs to the sewer collection system are completed."

In October, The Gazette reported that negotiations were under way with the department because of numerous and severe sewage overflows, primarily in the area of Iron Master Court.

The severity of Thurmont's sewer problems came to light when several families who live on the court were flooded out of their homes in May 2003 during heavy rains. The damage was not from water, but from overflowing sewage entering the basements of the homes through toilets and pipes.

In early June 2003, one of the families found sewage in their house again. On that day, town staff pumped overflowing sewage from a manhole into a nearby stormwater management pond to keep more homes from being damaged.

It was a scene played over and over again during nearly every heavy rain since, and it is a major reason for the consent agreement's fines and restrictions.

The Maryland Department of the Environment agreement also states the dumping is a violation of the Environmental Article of the Annotated Code of Maryland, and that the town reported 18 sanitary sewer overflows and four disinfection bypasses between Feb. 22, 2003 and Jan. 14, 2005.

Because of the severe problems with the system over the last few years, the town hired the engineering firm of ARRO Consulting Inc. to conduct an in-depth analysis of the town's systems. Funds are already being allocated in the budget to make major repairs this year, as recommended by the company's report. More than $1.1 million is slated to be spent this year and the repairs are scheduled to be completed by July, Mayor Martin Burns said Wednesday.

To pay for the repairs, the town increased water and sewer charges substantially during the last calendar year, but Burns said there are no plans to increase the rates this year.

Despite the efforts by the town, however, eight property owners from Iron Master Court filed a lawsuit against the town alleging negligence in mid-2004.

That suit has not yet been resolved.

The agreement also places limits on the amount of building permits that may be issued and requires fines now and in the future, if the spills continue.

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