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Thurmont desperate for funds to fix sewers

Jeremy Hauck
The Gazette

(4/10) Facing a $2.55 million judgment and another $6 million lawsuit related to sewer problems, Thurmont officials this week vowed to keep on the table their most drastic option for convincing state and federal government agencies to fund sewer repairs.

The repairs are desperately needed, officials have said, because heavy rains have caused, and will cause in the future, town sewers to overflow into homes and into state-protected waters, triggering consent orders and lawsuits.

If the money to fund $17 million of repairs to the town’s sewer system doesn’t come soon in the form of Maryland Department of the Environment grants, Thurmont leaders said this week they’ll terminate the town’s contracts to treat wastewater coming from Cunningham Falls State Park and Catoctin Mountain Park.

‘‘When they needed something from the Town of Thurmont, we came to their assistance," Mayor Martin A. Burns said this week. ‘‘I don’t think it’s inappropriate to ask for their help."

Thurmont has had permanent contracts with both parks to provide sewage treatment since 1977. The contracts stipulate that the town has to give the parks six years’ notice before terminating them. State-run Cunningham Falls State Park pays the town $1,410 per month for services; federally run Catoctin Mountain Park pays $710 per month.

Burns said he’s willing to sign the parks up for 40 more years of service if officials at the state or federal level can funnel millions to Thurmont to fund sewer repairs. But he and the Board of Commissioners aren’t optimistic.

Burns, Commissioners Glenn D. Muth, Robert E. Lookingbill and Chief Administrative Officer William H. Blakeslee took a trip to Washington, D.C., on April 3 for a 90-minute meeting facilitated by U.S. Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett (R-Dist. 6). Others at the meeting included National Park Service Deputy Director for Operations Daniel N. Wenk, park service Regional Director Joseph M. Lawler and Superintendent of Catoctin Mountain Park J. Mel Poole.

Officials from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, including Cunningham Falls State Park Manager Cindy Ecker, also attended the meeting, as did a legal affairs aide for U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D), Burns said.

Thurmont officials described the meeting Monday in tones that ranged from unconvinced to defiant.

‘‘There was a lot of buck passing," Commissioner Glenn D. Muth said. ‘‘My guess is that, in 30 days, we’ll come back and somebody will have come up with a few hundred thousand dollars and nothing that’s really going to fix the problem. I hope I’m wrong."

While Burns said Monday he wasn’t prepared to throw the switch on the parks just yet, he joined other commissioners, including Muth and Ronald A. Terpko, in vowing to keep the option on the table.

‘‘I was the one telling my colleagues ... ‘Don’t shut them off, don’t shut them off; let the politics work," Burns said. ‘‘And now I’m the one going, ‘Cut them off ... Send the message loud and clear ... It’s our only leverage. What are they going to do, not give us money? They’re doing that now."

The message was received, at least by the National Park Service, according to Poole. The park has already begun following up on last week’s meeting by analyzing the costs of alternative wastewater treatment options, Poole said, including composting toilets and constructed wetlands for filtration, and building a small treatment facility for the parks.

‘‘We don’t mind exploring all that," Poole said Wednesday. ‘‘There may ultimately be a cheaper solution here."

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