Cecil Whig:County’s Bay clean-up cost may be near $600 million

County’s Bay clean-up cost may be near $600 million

By Cheryl Mattix cmattix@cecilwhig.com | Posted: Monday, October 31, 2011 2:45 am

Cecil County citizens will learn for the first time Tuesday that a new state mandate aimed at cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay could be cleaning out their wallets instead. The culprit is a government program called Watershed Implementation Plan, or WIP, which the state is telling all towns and counties to implement over the next five years in order to meet federal mandates to clean up the Chesapeake Bay.

Director of Public Works Scott Flanigan has estimated this plan will cost Cecil County nearly $600 million through 2020, which is the final deadline imposed by Gov. Martin O’Malley. “In my opinion this is a worst-case scenario,” said Robert Peoples, project manager for the WIP in Cecil County’s Department of Public Works. Peoples says two (septic tanks and sewage plants) of the three sets of costs are fairly predictable, but the third element, which is the “urban” or stormwater plan, is much more unpredictable.

That’s why Peoples says the $423.9 million associated with implementing the stormwater or urban part of the watershed implementation plan could be too high or too low. “We took an average number to calculate these costs because we don’t have assessments done in the entire county right now,” he said.

A Watershed Advisory Committee, appointed by county commissioners late last year, has been working with staff to come up with a draft plan that would meet goals set by the state in the most cost-efficient way.

That draft plan is being presented to commissioners at their 9 a.m. Tuesday work session and will again be presented at the regular 7 p.m. commissioner meeting where they hope to get some initial reaction from the public.

Staff will be seeking approval from commissioners to submit the county’s draft to the Maryland Department of the Environment to meet the Nov. 18 deadline. MDE is expected to review the plans. Final plans are due in 2012.

Cecil County’s estimated costs for the septic portion of the WIP is $134.6 million and $38.6 million for the wastewater treatment plant (Seneca Point) upgrade portion, which when coupled with the storm water portion of $423.9 million, adds up to a total estimated cost of $597 million.

The potential hit to citizens’ wallets will come into play when the government looks for ways to pay for the project.

Officials haven’t yet begun serious discussion of how they could pay for this, but Flanigan indicated at earlier meetings that everything could be on the table, including seeking government grants or loans.

Other options could include new and higher fees.

Sen. E.J. Pipkin said last week at a meeting in Annapolis the state is talking about new impervious surface fees.

Flanigan is expected to recommend Tuesday that the county move ahead with its $38.6 million upgrade to the Northeast River (Seneca Point) Wastewater Treatment Plant and plan to connect 2,416 existing septic systems to an upgraded wastewater treatment plant and retrofit another 3,502 existing septic systems with a septic denitrification system to help Cecil County meet this environmental mandate.

Because the county doesn’t currently have any stormwater retrofit or restoration programs or employees in place, the recommendation is to start a generic “best management” practice to reduce pollution from runoff by targeting 16,722 acres. The state used a cost of $18,000 an acre to retrofit stormwater.

Pipkin and several other state lawmakers are expected to introduce bills in January to push back the WIP deadlines and to tie funding to efficiency by requiring a cost efficiency analysis of each TMDL (total maximum daily load) measure to reduce nitrogen, phosphorus and sediments entering the Chesapeake Bay and allocate money accordingly.

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