Fairmount to get last of the $3.8 million in Sandy money, Crisfield gets nothing

Due to an editing error this story is incomplete in the Dec. 21 County Times.

 

PRINCESS ANNE — The last of Somerset County’s superstorm Sandy funds totaling nearly $3.8 million will be applied to the decommissioning of the Fairmount wastewater treatment plant and the extension of sewer lines through Manokin to link the system with the Westover sewer.

 
The Dec. 13 vote by the County Commissioners was split 3-2 and came a week after a work session where the board received information about storm surge protection projects, drainage improvements, street repairs and sewer upgrades for Crisfield, in addition to the appeal by the Sanitary District to apply the entire grant in Fairmount.

 
“All of which are very important projects for the county,” said County Administrator Doug Taylor. “The gravity of the issue is there are not enough funds to cover all of the projects.”
The Sanitary District estimates replacing the Fairmount plant to enhanced nutrient removal (ENR) status would cost $6 million. By taking it out, upgrading pump stations and running a force main 5½ miles up Fairmount Road the price tag is very close to $3.8 million. It also extends sewer service to Manokin plus picks up leachate from the landfill that is currently being shuttled by tank trucks to the Princess Anne treatment plant.

 
By linking the Fairmount-Rumbley-Frenchtown sewer to Westover, the costly debt assessment will be shared, reducing Westover’s annual debt assessment by nearly $73 per household. No longer would treated wastewater go into the Annemessex River as all of it would be processed in Princess Anne, which has the capacity to handle the additional flow. It would continue to be discharged into the Manokin River.

 
The Fairmount plant “has reached the end of its useful life,” said Tony Stockus, general manager of the Sanitary District. It no longer meets state requirements, and subjected to infiltration of stormwater and was flooded during the late October 2012 hurricane. The shared sewer will reduce operating and maintenance expense by $46,000 per year.
There would be a debt service charge for the 224 Fairmount users, estimated to be $220 per year for the shared facility with Westover. This annual fee would be on the EDU or equivalent dwelling unit method rather than by the front foot as it is now. The rate for 2017 will be 23 cents per foot.

 
The plan to eliminate the Fairmount plant was the number one rated project in Maryland but that did not come with any funding guarantees, Mr. Stockus said. “They do feel that there is a certain merit in the fact that we would be eliminating the plant in Fairmount and treating the waste to a higher standard in Princess Anne,” he said.

 
The decommissioning of the Fairmount plant was the third item listed by the County Commissioners’ on their “Prioritized Projects” list from January 2014. Number one was the restoration of Great Point located off Crisfield, but it would require Army Corps of Engineer participation and was more expensive than what funding was available.

 
Scott Hardaway Jr. of Coastal Design, which is handling the breakwater projects on Smith Island, explained to the County Commissioners a less expensive alternative for Crisfield via the construction of breakwaters along the sunken Great Point. In addition, he briefly discussed the Crisfield tidal dike, also on the County Commissioners’ priority list, but concluded repairing the 7 mile berm that runs Down Neck “is clearly beyond any envisioned funding for Crisfield.”

 
The study of the tidal dike alone consumed $518,200. The Great Point study was an additional $350,000.

 
On behalf of the city, Mayor Kim Lawson appealed for funding to be used for drainage and sewer upgrades — in particular to handle wastewater coming from the county’s force-main system into the city’s gravity sewer. He said if this is not rectified, it may force the city to call for a moratorium on county sewer hook-ups. Overall the requests combined totaled some $5 million.

 
Unfortunately for Crisfield, when the mayor’s wish list was taken into consideration, Department of Housing and Community Development’s Community Programs Director Cindy Stone was not confident they could be completed during the time the money had to be spent. She advised the County Commissioners by letter that “As no costs have been identified, it is unknown if the available funds are sufficient or if the project could be completed by the August 2019 deadline.”

 
In a final appeal shortly before the vote was taken, City Councilwoman Charlotte Scott said money spent in Crisfield, unlike using it in Fairmount, had the ability to provide a return on investment.

 
“These improvements are needed and will be returning tax dollars over and over again. Can you say the same thing for Fairmount? Or any other place in the county?” Ms. Scott further said Crisfield has “the greatest potential.”

 
Commissioner Rex Simpkins, prior to making the motion to direct the money to Fairmount, wondered if the projects on Mayor Lawson’s list were directly related to Sandy. His motion was supported by Commissioner Craig Mathies Sr. and Vice President Charles Fisher.

 
Commissioner Jerry Boston, and President Randy Laird were in opposition.

 
Mr. Laird said later that he felt some of the $3.8 million could be directed to Crisfield. And Mr. Lawson said improvements made in Crisfield could have served “nearly four times” the number of people.

 
“Eight hundred people sending sewer to Crisfield did not become part of the priority,” the mayor said, acknowledging that a specific project was not designated but “we weren’t offered a portion” of the funds.

 
With Crisfield on its own for major infrastructure upgrades, Mr. Lawson said the city will continue to be concerned about municipal residents hooked to the sewer system. And as for the 800 county residents tied into the city sewer, he said, “they will be part of that $5 million we’re going to have to pick up.”

 
“We’re going to have to figure out how to pay for these mandatory upgrades in our system.”

 
“It could have been shared,” Councilman Erik Emely said of the $3.8 million. “I don’t think the total amount had to go that way.”

Richard Crumbacker is the General Manager of the County Times. He can be reached at RCrumbacker@newszap.com

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