Town of Emmitsburg
300A S. Seton Ave Emmitsburg, Maryland

December 2003

Sewer Problems;
What is our Goal?

Over the past several weeks there has been many articles in the local newspapers and letters received from the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) about Emmitsburg spilling raw sewage. Unfortunately, a portion of these articles and letters are correct. Like many other municipalities in Maryland, Emmitsburg has had some sewage spills. As most of the Emmitsburg residents know, Emmitsburg has been troubled with several very old sewer (and water) lines that have a considerable amount of damage to them. Damage to these sewer lines allow "wild water" to get in to the sanitary sewer system. Wild water is rainwater, melting snow or water from flooded streams flowing over their banks.

The letter sent to MDE by a resident stated that the Town had eleven (11) sewage spills in the month of September. That statement was not correct. We know that one Town official may have been aware of this letter before it was sent to MDE, we know for certain that he was aware of it soon after. However, in either case, there seem to be no attempt from him to correct the error in the complainant. MDE responded to the resident in writing and the Town official shared a copy of MDE's response with his fellow commissioners at the November 20 workshop meeting. MDE also made a site visit to the Town's sewer plant which they interview The Town's Sewer and Water Superintendent and reviewed the Town's records. Although the Town's sewer and water superintendent was able to provide MDE with all of the proper reports and documentation to show that the alleged spills did not happen as the complaint stated, it appears that MDE is still somewhat suspicious of these alleged spills.

The complaint letter was written after the October Town meeting when the town manager reported that the sewer plant exceeded its designed operating capacity eleven (11) days in the month of September. Operating above the designed operating capacity does not mean that the Town suffered from a sewage spill and, it was not reported that the Town had eleven (11) sewage spills in September. After the town manager reads his report, the council president always asks if any one from the council has any questions about the report. No one from the town council at the meeting or after the meeting questioned the report or verified that they correctly understood the sewer problem that staff reported on. That alone raises a serious question to me. If an elected official believed that there were eleven (11) spills in one month, but he was not told until the following month, shouldn't the question at that time been "why weren't we told about this sooner"?

There is no doubt that the Town has sewer and water line problems, this is a problem that troubles every municipality in the state. Not working together as a group and discussing town issues openly prevents us from accomplishing our goals in a timely and professional manner. This type of behind the sense decision making has no positive effect on the Town. In fact, it has a very poor effect on the town and its employees. Filing this erroneous complaint with MDE may have jeopardized the operators license and reputation of the Town's sewer and water plant superintendent.

As I have said in many of my previous reports and articles before, as long as the information is correct, I have no problem with anyone reporting what the Town and its elected officials are doing. However, it is disturbing to receive letters and read newspaper articles written with erroneous information. This complaint alone has wasted several hours of the town staffs manpower in an effort to address and follow up with MDE's inquiries. When a resident files a complaint, he/she is not always expected to get all the facts correct. When a town official, elected to serve the Town in the best of his ability is aware of (or part of) a complaint written with erroneous information, you have to question what is his understanding of "the best of his ability".

The town has been working on several issues to improve problems with our sewer system. About three years ago, the town re-lined a section of sewer line on the east side of North Seton Ave. Just recently Provincial House and FEMA re-lined a sewer line between their two facilities. Currently the town is advertising for bids to replace the sewer line that runs from the old Rutters store to North Seton Ave., and we have also done some preventative maintenance to the pumps and valves at the Creamery Road pump station. So, it is not like the Town has just thrown its hands in the air or said well it only happens when it rains there's nothing we can do. We are working towards improvements, we still have a very long way to go. The sewer and water lines have been allowed to deteriorate to such poor condition over the years that we can not fix all of them over night. It will take several years of working together to accomplish the much-needed repairs.

In closing, I will give you every date that the Town had and reported a raw sewage spill in the 2003.

  • January 2nd 1,000,000 gallons spilled
  • January 3rd 200,000 gallons spilled
  • February 5th 200 gallons spilled
  • February 22 - 24th 50,000 gallons spilled
  • April 8 - 9th 15,000 gallons spilled
  • May 16th less than 1,000 gallons spilled
  • September 3 - 4th 157,000 gallons spilled
  • September 23rd 300,000 gallons spilled
  • December 12th 171,000 gallons spilled

The above dates show a total of nine (9) spills for the entire year. Except for the February 5th spill that was a blocked sewer line on North Seton Avenue, all spills were the cause of heavy rains and melting snow.

If you have any questions, please feel free to call the town office, or e-mail me at

Jim Hoover

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