PRINCESS ANNE — Members of the Somerset County Sanitary Commission agreed on Thursday to take part in talks to resolve water supply issues in Princess Anne, but expressed their frustration with state officials who have denied well permits for the past two years.
There have been six meetings with the Maryland Department of the Environment since October 2007, which have resulted in nothing more than extra legal and engineer’s fees, said Tony Stockus, a Sanitary Commission member.
To make matters worse, the volunteer board has “taken a beating” from Princess Anne Town Commissioners.
“Why? Because we can’t produce water,” Stockus told David Nemazie, who has been charged with facilitating the discussion process.
Nemazie will meet individually with several county boards and state agencies to hear what their concerns are before convening a joint meeting in early October.
He met last week with Somerset County Commissioners, and is scheduled to meet Monday night with Princess Anne officials.
The process — which began Sept. 15 at a meeting in Annapolis with Gov. Martin O’Malley — is expected to take between three and six months, and involve several state agencies.
At last week’s meeting, County Commissioners told Nemazie their list of options includes getting permits for the wells as is, or at least to allow the water to be blended with water from the Manokin aquifer.
Other options include partnerships with Eastern Correctional Institution, which already operates a reverse osmosis treatment system, and for the state to build a separate water system at University of Maryland Eastern Shore which would free up allocations for the town of Princess Anne.
Sanitary Commission members told Nemazie they had the same goals.
For the past two years, state officials have refused to issue permits for two wells in the Patapsco aquifer unless the county builds a reverse osmosis treatment system, which has been estimated to cost $13.5 million.
County officials have argued the treatment system is unnecessary and would add as much as $1,400 per year on customer’s bills.
Secretary of the Environment Shari Wilson has said treatment of the water in the two wells is necessary to reduce fluoride to 2 milligrams per liter under goals established by the federal Environmental Protection Agency. The water in the Revells Neck Road wells measures slightly higher.
However, county officials have argued that the fluoride level in the wells is considered acceptable under federal standards for drinking water, and that Wilson has no authority to deny the permits based only on goals which have never been adopted as enforceable standards by the EPA.
The county requested an opinion from the Maryland Attorney General’s Office in April, but has not yet received an answer.
County Administrator Dan Powell, who attended Thursday’s Sanitary Commission meeting, asked Nemazie for his help in getting an opinion before the joint meeting in October.
The delay in the permits has stalled a planned extension of water service to the Westover area, as well as millions of dollars in new development in Princess Anne.
In the meantime, the Sanitary Commission is in the process of rehabilitating several older wells and drilling two new ones in the Manokin aquifer which has had declining levels in recent years.
Although the work is expected to make some new water allocations available, it still won’t be enough for all the construction projects on hold.