PRINCESS ANNE — A lawsuit filed by the Somerset County Sanitary Commission against the Maryland Department of the Environment will proceed to trial after a judge refused to dismiss the case Friday.
Although MDE’s attorney, Steve Johnson, called the case “a classic example of a dispute that has no business being in court,” Circuit Court Judge Thomas C. Groton III disagreed.
“It appears to be at a standstill,” he said. “They’ve alleged they’ve done everything they’re supposed to do.”
During a motions hearing Friday, Johnson argued for dismissal so the case can go through an administrative hearings process rather than be heard in Circuit Court.
But Robin Cockey, attorney for the Sanitary Commission, said Secretary of the Environment Shari Wilson’s refusal to either approve or deny the permits has left no other remedy.
“This case has been pending in the administrative process since 2004,” he said. “We’re in procedural purgatory.”
In October, the Sanitary Commission filed a lawsuit against MDE in an attempt to get permits for two wells in the Patapsco aquifer on Revells Neck Road.
The lawsuit claims Wilson has refused to sign the permits, although the water in the wells “complied with all applicable standards.”
For the past two years, Wilson has said treatment with an expensive reverse osmosis system is necessary to reduce FLUORIDE under goals established by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
However, county officials have argued the fluoride level in the water is considered acceptable under federal standards for drinking water, and that state officials have no authority to deny the permits based only on goals which have never been adopted as enforceable standards by the EPA.
While Groton refused to dismiss the Sanitary Commission’s request for declaratory judgment, he agreed to dismiss a complaint seeking a writ of mandamus, which asked the court to force Wilson to issue a permit for the wells.
However, Groton said he would allow Cockey to change his request for mandamus to ask Wilson instead to advance the case.
Following Friday’s motions hearing, Cockey said Johnson agreed to give him a list within the next 15 days of whatever MDE officials claim is needed to complete the permit process.
No trial date has been scheduled.