- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 5, 2004

ANNAPOLIS — Maryland environmental officials have halted indefinitely the building of new homes and businesses in Centreville, after an investigation found that the town’s sewage-treatment plant had been spewing too much pollution into a Chesapeake Bay tributary.

Elected officials of the Queen Anne’s County town agreed to the building moratorium in a meeting Monday afternoon, said Jeff Welsh, spokesman for the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE). The ban is part of a consent agreement to be enforced by MDE.

The moratorium bans all construction except by about 80 projects, mostly homes, that already have secured building permits.

MDE found, after inspecting the existing plant and sampling its effluent, that it has released sewage that was improperly treated.

The town of 2,000 residents has continued to approve new development at the same time construction of a new sewage plant has been delayed because of weather, MDE found in an investigation that began in February, Mr. Welsh said.

“There’s a lot of potential construction, and we don’t want to see this new plant come online and find out it already has been pushed beyond capacity,” Mr. Welsh said. “And we certainly don’t want any additional demand on the existing plant.”

The state attorney general also is investigating operations at the plant, after former plant operator Robert Griffith reported that the facility pumped more than a million gallons of raw sewage into the Corsica River last year as development outpaced the capacity of the aging plant.

Mr. Griffith said he was fired for making the violations public, and the town manager and town attorney left their jobs shortly after.

According to the order, the moratorium will be lifted when the new plant opens and town officials prove it is operating properly and can handle new hookups. Officials in Centreville have told MDE the plant is 75 percent complete and might be running by this summer.

The pollution hasn’t endangered public health, although it likely has stressed marine life in the Chesapeake Bay, Mr. Welsh said.

“Our ongoing tests have shown the effluent going into the Corsica River is not going to make anyone sick,” he said.

Leaders of the nonprofit Chesapeake Bay Foundation criticized MDE for not taking action sooner.

“The regulatory system is in place to prevent this type of thing and catch it and respond to it immediately,” said Kim Coble, Maryland executive director for the foundation.

Enforcement of clean-water regulations is based on a system of independent reporting, Mr. Welsh said. MDE monitors the state’s 300 sewage-treatment plants by reviewing reports from plant operators.

“We don’t go out and test the flow,” he said. “By and large, the system in every state is self reporting and relies on the operator to be forthright.”

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