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Commissioners commit to building equalization basin

(11/15) Facing $17.5 million in sewer repairs and upgrades, the Thurmont Town Commissioners committed to the State of Maryland to purse the equalization basin project first.

As part of the process of negotiating and updating the consent agreement the town has with the Maryland Department of the Environment, the commissioners needed to lay out what their next step would be in the repair and upgrade of the town’s sewer system would be.

The town had three options it could have pursued:

  • Rehabilitate the existing sewer lines for $4.6 million.
  • Construct an equalization basin better manage high storm water flows for $5.5 million.
  • Expand the existing wastewater treatment plant by 33 percent for $7.4 million.

With a total cost of $17.5 million, the town cannot afford to pursue all three options at the same time.

Mayor Martin Burns said, “The best bang for our buck is an equalization basin.” The design phase of the project can begin this month and be completed August 2008. Final completion of the project would be expected around May 2010 with the basin being in operation by October 2010.

Burns also noted that rehabilitating the sewer lines for $4.6 million was no guarantee of a fix, if, for instance, the problem is with the privately-owned sewer laterals. On the other hand, Burns said and equalization basin would act as a “significant Band-Aid” to stop sewer back ups and allow the town the time to purse the other two options without worrying about another lawsuit.

“If we can’t stop lawsuits were toast,” Burns said. “We have to stop lawsuits otherwise we’ll all be moving out of town.”

While the commissioners were concerned with the costs involved, Commissioner Robert Lookingbill said, “This is something that has to happen. There’s no putting it off for a couple years. Maryland Department of the Environment is putting the press on us to get it done.”

Burns also reminded the commissioners that MDE officials have said that the cost of a project is not an excuse for not getting it done. While he might have suggested a different course of action if the town hadn’t been facing litigation, he said currently the equalization basin is “the best, most economical, quickest fix.”

Lookingbill agreed, saying that residents “have to understand we’re trying to fix the problem here and lawsuits aren’t helping us.”

Commissioner Glenn Muth wanted to include in the agreement that the town was considering terminating sewer service to entities outside of the town limits. This would include Cunningham Falls State Park, Catoctin Mountain Park, Catoctin High School and private residents. Burns said he had no trouble if the town wrote a letter to that effect but it didn’t belong in the consent agreement. Burns said it would be “poking your stick in the eye of a state agency that has a hammer that could hammer this town in a significant way.”

Commissioner Wayne Hooper noted, “They [MDE] know we’re considering it because we already met with them. They just need to be reminded of it frequently.”

The vote to add the termination language failed and the commissioners voted unanimously to list the equalization basin as the project they would pursue. If the opportunity arises, the town will pursue the other projects.

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