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Town and MDE to meet to avoid fines

(8/1) Representatives from Thurmont and the Maryland Department of the Environment are expected to meet within the next week or so to reconcile differing interpretations of the sewer system consent agreement between the town and MDE and avoid what could be costly fines for the town.

MDE Secretary Shari Wilson wrote the town a letter in May saying that since the town's sewer rehabilitation project was completed on Oct. 4, 2006, the town should have installed flow meters to monitor sewer flows for 18 months following the completion.

"MDE has determined that seven additional sewage overflows or bypasses have occurred since the sewer rehabilitation work was fully completed on October 4, 2006," Wilson wrote. "Additionally, since the Consent Agreement requires that flow data must be collected over a continuous period of eighteen months. Thurmont will not have gathered sufficient data to submit an evaluation of the sewer rehabilitation project by the March 1, 2008 compliance date."

This passage surprised town officials on a number of points: 1. The town only considers one phase of the sewer rehabilitation project complete. 2. The town didn't realize it was expected to use flow meters continuously for 18 months. 3. The town won't be in compliance totally by March 1, 2008.

"I talked with MDE at the (Maryland Municipal League) convention and we're going to meet to make sure we all understand what's expected," said Mayor Martin Burns.

The meeting will happen soon once schedules can be worked out. At the meeting the two parties will review the consent agreement and make sure the other party knows what is expected.

"I think we're each just missing what the other side means by a little bit," Burns said. "It's been a communication misunderstanding via correspondence."

If an understanding can't be reached for some reason, the town could be fined for unauthorized delays to the project.

Burns doesn't believe that will happen, though. "We're not trying to just get by here," Burns said. "We're willing to do what they want us to do. If they intended us to have flow meters for 18 months, I don't have a problem with that."

He points out that the language of the consent agreement doesn't say that all of the data collected needs to be done by flow meters. In addition, given the drought conditions the state is experiencing now, data collection wouldn't have shown the sewer system working under normal conditions.

Burns replied in a written letter to Wilson pointing out that the consent agreement language required data collection following the completion of the compliance plan not the first phase of the sewer project.

"Since the Compliance Plan is not yet completed, the Town did not believe it was obligated to install the flow meters yet," Burns wrote. "However, before you letter dated May 29th, 2007 reached us we had already installed the flow meters."

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