PRINCESS ANNE — A facilitator appointed to help resolve a stalemate over water supply issues is schedued to meet Thursday with the Somerset County Sanitary Commission.
David Nemazie, an associate vice president at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science in Cambridge, will meet individually with several county boards and state agencies to hear what their concerns are before convening a joint meeting in early October.
The meetings will address growth projections for the county, the sort of water use associated with that growth, and the type of water system needed. They also will look at possible locations and costs of a water system, Nemazie said.
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.
Nemazie has met with Somerset County Commissioners, and is on the Sept. 29 agenda of the Princess Anne Town Commissioners.
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 be costly for water customers.
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.
The Sanitary Commission has funding and is ready to complete the project once it gets the permits, County Commissioner Sam Boston told Nemazie last week.
“But if they make us do (reverse osmosis) we’re not prepared to do it,” he said.
One option discussed in Annapolis on Sept. 15 and in previous meetings is the possibility of a partnership with ECI, which already operates a reverse osmosis treatment system.
Another option would be for the state to build a separate water system at UMES which would free up allocations for the Sanitary Commission.
County Commissioner Rex Simpkins said several partnership options had been discussed in previous meetings, but no one from the state ever followed up.
“We never heard from them until they thought we were filing a lawsuit,” he said.
In March, The Sanitary Commission agreed to take legal action against the Maryland Department of the Environment if Secretary Shari Wilson continued to deny the permits.
So far, no lawsuit has been filed.
The decision to take legal action came a week after a meeting between Somerset officials and Wilson.
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 has requested an opinion from the Maryland Attorney General’s Office, but has not yet received an answer.
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.