Cecilton Water Pipeline on Track as State Agrees to Require Connection of Earleville Homes Affected by Federal Dump
A stumbling block to bringing safe, clean water to three Earleville communities with wells polluted by a US Army Corps of Engineers dredge spoil dumpsite has been overcome with a new commitment by state environmental officials to require homes to connect to the water system once it is completed.
Without such state action, there were concerns that there could be cross-contamination from old wells or too few homes would tie-in to the new system to make it financially viable. The Town of Cecilton is planning to run a seven-mile water pipeline from the town to serve the Earleville communities of West View Shores, Bay View Estates, and Sunset Pointe.
In an 8/21/14 letter to top Cecil County officials, Robert Summers, Secretary of the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE), wrote that after the new water system is finished, “the Department will take the actions necessary to require residents to connect” to the new water lines. In addition, Summers said, “the Department may also order that the property be connected and that the well be abandoned where an existing well is or could become prejudicial to public health.”
And MDE “supports the abandonment and sealing of all on-site wells to avoid any potential for contamination or public health risk…” the Secretary wrote.
While the two-page letter is full of bureaucratese, and hedging on a precise time frame for action, the bottom line is that once the Cecilton waterline is operational, existing homes will have to connect and existing wells will be closed and sealed.
MDE had hemmed and hawed on which government entity should be responsible for requiring connections and closing of existing wells, trying to shift the responsibility to the county government or the local Health Department—which is officially a state agency but funded in part by Cecil County. MDE officials told local officials they were afraid of “litigation” if some local residents did not want to abandon their private water wells. But local officials said state law made it clearly MDE’s responsibility.
The situation became more urgent in July, when the county Health Department denied a well permit for a Bay View Estates property owner, who wanted to build a home on his lot, because well water tests on two adjoining properties showed significant pollution, due to the nearby federal dumpsite.
[SEE previous Cecil Times Special Report here: http://ceciltimes.com/2014/07/water-well-permit-denied-for-home-in-earleville-area-polluted-by-federal-dump-building-ban-looms-as-state-local-feud-clouds-prospects-for-cecilton-water-line/
The permit denial led to concerns among local property owners, as well as some County Council members, that the water problems could lead to a virtual building ban in the affected communities—which have many vacant lots—and complicate sales and purchases of existing homes.
In his letter, Summers said that MDE “supports the decision of the County Health Department” in that case and further “agrees that the county must make future decision on well permits in this area on a case-by-case basis.”
If a well permit is denied, a property owner would be unable to build a home for the next several years, until the Cecilton-supplied water system is completed.
Meanwhile, planning for the Cecilton water pipeline is on track with the recent release of $441,000 as the second installment of engineering and planning funds provided by the Maryland Port Administration (MPA). MPA has agreed to provide the necessary funds to construct the system and connect existing homes, at an estimated cost of about $12 million. Existing homes will be connected at no cost, but future houses built in the area will have to pay to tap into the system.
Engineers from the town’s water service contractor have begun on-site surveys in the affected communities and residents have been contacted to arrange for the engineers to inspect their existing water system to figure out how to connect each property to the new pipeline system.
Cecilton Mayor Joseph Zang, who conceived the idea of the pipeline to bring town water to Earleville and has been the proposal’s strongest advocate, said he welcomed Summers’ letter as “great, it’s a major step.” Zang said the town also had submitted relevant data to the county government to take the next step in moving the project forward: amendment of the county’s water and sewer plan and holding a public hearing on the proposal.
MPA’s fiscal largesse toward the project is predicated on getting something it wants in return: MDE approval of a water certification to resume dumping of shipping channel dredge spoil from the Chesapeake Bay at the Pearce Creek dumpsite adjacent to the Bay, the Elk River, and the three Earleville communities.
The MDE barred further dumping twenty years ago due to concerns about contamination of groundwater in the area—concerns that were confirmed by an independent federal study issued in January 2013 that found multiple contaminants, including arsenic and other toxic materials, and concluded the dumping had altered the flow of groundwater in area aquifers.
The federal Corps of Engineers has submitted a permit application to MDE seeking to renew dumping, after placing a membrane liner over existing deposits at the site. MDE is expected to convene a public hearing in Cecil County this fall on the permit application for renewed dumping.