Bob Mitchell

Worcester County Environmental Programs Director Bob Mitchell

Commissioner Elder votes against requesting MDE to reconsider sewer expansion

(April 26, 2019) Despite one member noting the county had refused a request to expand sewer capacity for the Sea Oaks Village project in 2017, the Worcester County Commissioners voted 6-1 last week to approve correspondence asking the Maryland Department of the Environment to reverse course after it issued a comparable denial last month.

Sea Oaks is a proposed residential planned community situated on a roughly 40-acre parcel on the west side of Stephen Decatur Highway, just over a quarter-mile south of Sunset Avenue.

While the current Sea Oaks pitch includes 59 townhomes and 24,000 square feet of commercial space, for which developers have requested the county assign 63 Equivalent Dwelling Units or EDUs to allow for expanded water and sewer needs, Commissioner Ted Elder voted against asking the state to reconsider its decision.

Citing the commissioners 4-3 vote in October 2017 to reject plans for an even larger footprint, Elder said, “This is the same proposal we initially rejected ourselves. We were in agreement with MDE.”

Equivalent Dwelling Units are the measure employed to estimate wastewater treatment plant capacities, with each unit representing the daily average water and sewer use for a single-family home.

Shortly after acquiring the property in 2017, Sea Oaks LLC petitioned Worcester County officials to assign 139 EDUs to support developing the parcel with 135 townhomes and 24,000 square feet of commercial space.

To facilitate the newest Sea Oak plans, the commissioners voted on Nov. 20 to amend the allocation of sewer EDUs in the Mystic Harbour Service Area to encompass the Sea Oaks property.

The amendment also sought to alter Sea Oaks’ sewer service designation to be operational from between 6-10 years to within two years.

Bob Mitchell, Worcester County environmental programs director, said MDE sent a letter on March 18 rejecting the county amendment to allow service to the proposed Sea Oaks subdivision from the Mystic Harbour Wastewater Treatment Plant.

“We did have a positive meeting [with MDE] days prior,” he said,

Mitchell said the focus during a meeting between county and state officials on March 13 was addressing two concerns related to compliance issues at the Mystic Harbour plant.

The first issue cited in MDE’s correspondence related to amending the Mystic Harbour Sanitary Area included in the Worcester County Comprehensive Water and Sewage Plan adopted in 1994.

In terms of land use, MDE ruled the proposed amendment was inconsistent with the Worcester County Comprehensive Plan adopted in March 2006 and updated in Oct. 2011.

The Worcester County Comprehensive Plan established “Green Infrastructure,” land use guidelines, which the Sea Oaks parcel was classified, “to preserve environmentally significant areas and to maintain the environmental functionality of the county’s landscape.”

After review by the Maryland Department of Planning, which is tasked with assuring that county governments expand community sewage systems consistent with local comprehensive plans, the proposed EDU allocation was deemed inconsistent with the 2011 document.

While acknowledging work continues to correct operational concerns at the Mystic Harbour plant, MDE officials ruled Worcester County is unable at this point to ensure the wastewater treatment plant facilities are sufficient to accommodate increased sewage flow.

MDE also asked Worcester County officials to update progress regarding improvements at the Mystic Harbour plant and stressed the urgency to update its Water and Sewage Plan.

In a Jan. 2 letter from state planning officials, Charles Boyd, director of planning coordination, said Worcester County is well beyond the statutorily required period to update the Water and Sewage Plan adopted in 1994.

“As previously mentioned, had the 24-year-old WSP been updated every three years, the WSP would have been updated [at least] three times since the Comprehensive Plan was initially approved in 2006,” he said.

Mitchell said the county has a six-month window to ask MDE to reconsider the denial to expand water and sewer capacity.

“This goes to the [MDE] Secretary who will make a decision at the executive level,” he said. “We put together some solid arguments for our position within the letter.”

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