PRINCESS ANNE –After a four-year wait for approval on two wells in Westover, the Somerset County Sanitary Commission filed a lawsuit against the state Department of the Environment in an attempt to get the necessary permits.
he lawsuit — filed Thursday morning in Somerset County Circuit Court — seeks the permits for the wells in the Patapsco aquifer on Revells Neck Road, which would serve existing customers in Princess Anne as well as allow an expansion of services into Westover.
MDE spokeswoman Kim Lamphier declined comment Thursday because the department was not yet served with the lawsuit.
The lawsuit claims Secretary of the Environment Shari 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 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 Wilson has no authority to deny the permits based only on goals never adopted as enforceable standards by the EPA.
“Since the secretary arbitrarily denied the commission’s proposal to blend the water of different aquifers and the cost of a reverse osmosis system is substantial, and funding is unavailable, the effect of Secretary Wilson’s decision has been to block completely the Revells Neck Well Project, to the detriment of the many individuals and businesses who are deprived of the water supply it would afford,” the lawsuit state.
Although the Sanitary Commission voted in March to sue if MDE continued to deny the permits, they delayed action at the request of County Commissioners, who hoped to work out a compromise.
Since then, there have been several meetings with state officials, which led to the appointment of a facilitator to help resolve a stalemate over water supply issues.
County officials also have requested an opinion from the Maryland Attorney General’s Office on whether Wilson has the authority to deny permits. They still had not yet received an answer as of Thursday, said Robin Street, manager of the Sanitary District.
In a recent letter to facilitator David Nemazie, County Commissioners said they hope to continue discussions soon but they want a copy of the attorney general’s opinion first.
In spite of the lawsuit, County Administrator Dan Powell said the facilitated process will probably not stop.
“The County Commissioners want to continue on with the process,” he said.
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 the $64 million in new construction projects on hold because of the water shortage.