PRINCESS ANNE — A state official on Tuesday urged Somerset County Commissioners to use their influence to convince the county’s Sanitary Commission to apply for federal economic stimulus funds before a Feb. 28 deadline.
“It’s a potential win for everybody,” said Brigid Kenney, director of planning for the Maryland Department of the Environment. “I’m asking you to use whatever influence you have.”
While County Commissioners originally included $17 million for a reverse osmosis water system as part of their $36.3 million wish list for economic stimulus money, the item was removed a week later at the request of the Sanitary Commission.
Members voted unanimously not to apply for the funding on advice of their attorney because the Sanitary Commission is in the middle of a lawsuit against MDE in an attempt to get permits for two wells on property adjacent to ECI.
MDE officials have refused to issue the permits unless the county agrees to treat the water to reduce FLUORIDE under goals established by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
However, county officials have argued that the fluoride level in the water is considered acceptable under federal standards for drinking water, and that MDE has no authority to deny the permits based only on goals which have never been adopted as enforceable standards by the EPA.
While federal funds may be available to construct a RO treatment system, no one has calculated how much it will cost to operate the system, Sanitary Commission member Tony Stockus said at Tuesday’s meeting.
Some estimates show an average $700 annual increase on customers’ bill, he said.
“What we’re being given is an unfunded mandate,” he said.
Sanitary Commission members also have expressed their concern that MDE’s attorney could use the grant application against them in the pending lawsuit.
They also are concerned that building a RO system in Princess Anne would set a precedent in other parts of the county, as the public water systems in Fairmount, Crisfield and Smith Island all use the Patapsco aquifer. So far, they have not been required to treat the water in those communities.
Kenney and other MDE officials have said that applying for the federal funds will neither be used against the county or set a precedent.
“There’s no risk in getting in line for this money,” she said.