Cecil County Faces Costly Bay Cleanup; Septic Users May Have to Dig Up Tanks for $20K Systems
The bad news just keeps getting worse for Cecil County on costly sewage and environmental problems.
Scott Flanigan, the countyâs Director of Public Works and a professional engineer, delivered the latest bad news to the County Commissioners at a worksession Tuesday. In order to meet state mandatesâas part of a federal requirement to clean up the Chesapeake BayâCecil County will likely have to impose new rules on old and new septic systems and pay costs for extension of sewer services into more populated areas that are currently not served by county or municipal sewer systems.
Cecil County must draft a âwatershed implementation planâ (WIP) to reduce water pollution and submit it to the state in the next few months, but County Commissioners will have some tough decisions to make in the next few weeksâ something that the current Board of Commissioners has not shown itself to be able to do without multiple delays and much hemming and hawing on a variety of issues.
Flanigan said that the county âmight have to make it mandatoryâ to force existing homeowners in the âcritical areaâ to spend $15,000 to $20,000 to upgrade their septic systems to so-called âhighest available technologyâ septic systems that remove nitrogen from flows. Forcing such mandates on waterfront homeowners generates the most âbang for the buck,â he said, in reducing pollution. (The âcritical areaâ includes property within 1,000 feet of the Chesapeake Bay or waterways that feed into the Bay.)
He added that the county might also mandate new developments using septic systems to install nitrogen-curbing systems from the outset.
Statewide, a potential mandate for upgrading existing septic systems in the Critical Areas alone could cost nearly $400 million from 2012 through 2017 for upgrades of just 27,552 existing properties– even if these homes have perfectly functioning non-nitrogen cutting septic systems, according to provisions buried in the stateâs December, 2010 âpollution dietâ submission to the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
[See previous Cecil Times Special Report here: http://ceciltimes.com/2011/02/omalley-to-shore-flush-you-or-the-4-per-flush-mandate/ ]
Cecil Times reported that such a mandate, especially for seasonal residences occupied only a few months of the year in southern Cecil Countyâs waterfront areas, could amount to costs of over $4 per toilet flush over a five-year period.
The WIP mandates, coupled with pending âPlan Marylandâ mandates that could impose state limits on future Cecil County economic development and growth even in the designated I95/Route 40 business growth corridor, could all but shut down economic development in Cecil County.
But some Commissioners seemed to be less than alarmed. Commissioner Diana Broomell (R-4) said Tuesday that âthe county has to take the lead on thisâ and promote environmentally responsible standards especially for any new developments. âWe have to provide the standards,â she said, because developers always want to do the âcheapestâ things possible.
The seriousness of the problems, and the potential costs to Cecil County citizens, are exacerbated by the recent decision by a majority of the county commissionersâled by Broomellâto âmutually terminateâ or kill the sale of four sewage treatment plants to the private Artesian Resources. As a result of that action, the county could be responsible for over $16 million in costs, including up to $10.1 million in upgrades to facilities and $6 million in bond indebtedness for past upgrades.
Furthermore, the private Artesian would have paid the costs of extending sewage services into the growth corridor but now that the deal is dead, any extension of sewer servicesâeven just to comply with the WIP rulesâwould have to be borne by the county and citizens served by such facilities.
Flanigan said that sewage and septic issues are not the full extent of the problem. Many existing communities, especially those built before 1984 stormwater runoff rules took effect, will have to be upgraded at significant costs, such as purchase of land and easements to install runoff water retention ponds.
At this point, there are no overall cost estimates of the needed steps to comply with the WIP and other mandates, Flanigan said. County staff, as well as an advisory panel including homebuilders and other âstakeholders,â will draft a proposed plan to present to the county commissioners at their 10/18 worksession.