Frederick County Board of Commissioners’ President Blaine R. Young (R) is blaming politics instead of state law for Maryland’s recent rejection of portions of the county’s 2011 water and sewer plan because planners found it inconsistent with the area’s own growth plan.
The plan includes revisions that extend water and sewer service to properties outside the county’s 2010 Comprehensive Plan, a blueprint for growth updated every 10 years. The county is in the process of changing its growth plan to allow more development.
The Maryland Department of Planning, which reviewed the Maryland Department of the Environment’s evaluation of the county’s water and sewer plan, said in a May 31 letter to MDE that while some of the plan’s revisions “strengthen the relationship” between the county’s growth and water and sewer plans, other revisions are inconsistent.
The planning department took issue with portions of the plan, including water and sewer capacity, and the introduction of “subregional” or smaller treatment facilities to accommodate smaller developments outside of the county’s service areas.
MDE Water Quality Administrator Jay Sakai wrote in a June 8 letter to the commissioners that portions of the county’s service areas “overlap significantly” with the watersheds of Big Hunting Creek and High Run. Those areas are given extra considerations to protect the water’s quality, Sakai said.
Young said he understood that the water and sewer plan could receive preliminary approval from the MDE while the county growth plan was being amended.
“In the past, they always approved them, and I assume they would do like they did in the past and not make it a political issue,” he said.
Young, who has harshly criticized Plan Maryland, a state growth plan that would restrict development in rural counties, and state stormwater legislation, claimed MDE’s rejection was driven by the planning department.
He said he makes the allegation based on “inside knowledge.”
A call to state Planning Secretary Richard Hall was not returned before The Gazette’s press time, but his agency has consistently defended its actions in the past.
A spokesman for the state planning department told commissioners previously that his department does not understand why if a previous board of commissioners adopted a growth plan in 2010, the current board is seeking to overturn it.
“It remains unclear to [the Maryland Department of Planning] what conditions have changed in Frederick County over the past two years to warrant proposing such a dramatic shift in policy in the comprehensive plan,” Peter Conrad wrote to commissioners on June 4.
Conrad also said greater care should be taken to maintain and protect county farmland.
Based on county population estimates, there is not a need or a demand for additional housing beyond what is called for in the 2010 growth plan, he wrote in the letter.
Former county Commissioner Lennie Thompson, who served from 1998 to 2010, said he was not aware of the state approving water and sewer plans while a county growth plan is being amended.
“Until you adopt a new one, you still only have one,” Thompson said.
The county’s 2011 water and sewer plan allows for wastewater hookup for properties denied access in the 2010 Comprehensive Plan.
“Part of the onerous task of being an elected official is drawing lines, you have to say at some point, the growth stops here, for better for worse, [and] not go beyond that for a lot of good reasons,” he said.
Michael Siegel of Public and Environmental Finance Associates in Washington, D.C., conducted a wastewater treatment capacity analysis for Friends of Frederick County, a land preservation organization, in June.
Siegel, who compared capacity determined by the 2010 growth plan with the additional capacity required by changes the commissioners are now making to the plan, determined that the county will exceed its wastewater treatment capacity by 53 percent.
"It is shocking that the existing and planned demand on the Gas House Pike and Ballenger-McKinney wastewater treatment will exceed their capacity by 53.2 percent!” Friends Director Janice Wiles said. “Raw sewage floating down the Monocacy River is not what I call an improvement on our quality of life."
But Young said the county has more than enough treatment capacity.
State officials were scheduled to meet with county planner Eric Soter on July 24.
A call and email to Soter were not returned before The Gazette’s press time.