PRINCESS ANNE — Somerset County officials are expected to discuss this week if they will accept $6 million in federal stimulus funds — applied for without their knowledge or consent — to pay for a reverse osmosis water treatment system in Princess Anne.
Members of the Somerset County Sanitary District Commission learned recently that the Maryland Department of the Environment applied for the money to build a new plant in Westover to serve both Princess Anne and Eastern Correctional Institution.
However, the application was made after Sanitary Commission members voted unanimously in January not to apply for funding or to enter into partnerships with any state agencies.
“I don’t know what she’s trying to prove,” Larry Tyler, chairman of the Sanitary Commission, said of Secretary of the Environment Shari Wilson.
Although the Sanitary Commission was ready to respond to Wilson’s letter, they were asked to wait until after they met with Somerset County Commissioners, Tyler said. So far, no meeting date has been set, although the Sanitary Commission is expected to discuss Wilson’s letter during their regular meeting on Thursday.
A request for funding for a RO water system was part of the County Commissioners $36.3 million wish list for economic stimulus money, but the item was removed a week later at the request of the Sanitary Commission.
Members voted unanimously not to apply for the funding 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.
But in her letter, Wilson said the Sanitary Commission’s legal position “will not be compromised if you accept the grant and enter into an agreement with the Department of Public Safety & Corrections and Maryland Environmental Service for treating and providing water.”
MDE is willing to place a written stipulation in any agreement that it “shall not be used in any way to the detriment of the Sanitary District in the lawsuit,” Wilson said in the letter.
In the meantime, the case has not gone to trial. MDE has filed “a flurry of motions,” which will likely be discussed at a hearing, although no date has been set for that either, said Robin Cockey, attorney for the Sanitary Commission.
The suit was filed last year after MDE officials refused for several years to issue permits for the wells on property next to ECI unless the county agrees to treat the water to reduce fluoride under goals established by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
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.