For those following the petition to Remand Resolution 281 discussed in the Spy last week, I want to make an important clarification so there is no misunderstanding.
A reader friend called me and, as we spoke, it became apparent that she thought I’d said the Circuit Court itself had confirmed that the developer had watered down (no pun intended) the sewage system plans for Trappe East between the draft and final permits, and confirmed it was a “bait and switch.” (Her words.) A good reason to be upset—were that exactly so.
What our Circuit Court Judge did, on the petition from ShoreRivers, was to remand (i.e., send back) the final wastewater discharge permit to MDE for another round of comments, responses, a new public hearing, and then a revised final permit. Let’s call that a “next review.” (Theoretically it could come out unchanged.) The Judge did that without comment; he did not say why. He said nothing about a shell game, and he did not say ShoreRivers’ complaints of significant adverse changes to the plans were correct.
Interestingly—and I know the developer will make a big deal of this—the developer, Mr. Rocks, did not fight ShoreRivers’ demand. They filed papers agreeing that they were ok with a remand. And MDE, who is “merely” a regulator with no dog in the fight, said that if the two parties don’t care, then it was ok with them….and thus the remand ordered for a “next review.”
What are we to make of all this?
First, I know a few judges, and I am as sure as god made green apples that, with the parties agreeing, Judge Kehoe was delighted to sign the remand and get that paper off of his overloaded desk. (Not to be too presumptuous.) I’m sure he was relieved not to be required to evaluate ShoreRiver’s claims about nitrogen and fecal coliform.
Second, I am pretty sure the developer’s attorney, always effective on Mr. Rocks’ behalf, will tell us that the very fact that they did not object to a remand is evidence of their snow-white innocence, that they agreed to a remand because they are sure they will show, on re-examination, that the changes were innocent and have no adverse impact. Maybe. But we can only know after that “next review.”
Third, consider what else Rocks’ decision not to fight the remand request could mean. How about this? That now flagged, (e.g., reducing the size of holding lagoons) they recognized a losing hand, and rather than spending the time and money to fight ShoreRivers, just move ahead. (As to that loosing hand: look at the petition detailing the RiverKeeper’s findings: a smaller spray field; changed discharge formula; reduced freeboard on the sludge ponds by three feet.) Again, we can not know till after “the next review.” So, a developer might well say, spend no money, agree to the “next review,” move on.
But, says you, then the project cannot start! That makes no sense.
Bear with me now. Resolution 281, which if not rescinded per our petition, allows Mr. Rocks to proceed with “Phase 1A” of Lakeside irrespective of the status of the new sewerage treatment plant we’re all arguing about. An inadequately considered aspect of the Resolution is that it permits the first 120 houses to start immediately, whatever’s going on with the discharge permit. And for the developer, starting is everything. Cut the trees, push the dirt.
And where does the sewage from those first 120 homes go? Why, into the existing inadequate Trappe wastewater plant, a plant that has had failures in the past, and from there into LaTrappe Creek to the Choptank.
At the June 10, 2020 Planning Commission meeting, opposition to the new Trappe sewage plant waned a good deal when the developer’s attorney made a surprise announcement that Rocks’ sewage plant would meet the Enhanced Nutrient Removal (“ENR”) standard requiring discharge below 3 mg/l of nitrogen and .3 mg/l of phosphorus (compared to 8 mg/l and 3 mg/l “BNR standards” otherwise applicable). The developer’s attorney did not tell the Commissioners about other, adverse, changes still to come. Still, the Planning Commission (on whom the County Council relied heavily) only recommended in favor by a 3-2 margin, when decisions are generally unanimous.
Resolution 281 permits 120 houses to go up right now, run through an unreliable old plant whose permit requires it to meet only out-of-date BNR standards. And having watched the process, I’m confident Mr. Rocks got a green light last year only by presenting misleading information and key omissions at certain points in the review process. There is a reason, when being sworn in, one is asked not only “to tell the truth,” but also “the whole truth!”
If Resolution 281 is not rescinded PDQ, then however long we’re all arguing and working through the “next review,” Mr. Rocks will be shoveling dirt and moving ahead with those first 120 houses—and hooking them up to an antiquated, often failing system whose permit is even way out of line with current standards. And that effluent goes into the Chop.
Apologies if I seem worked up about this, but our County Council is supposed to protect the citizens from this sort of thing, not actively facilitate it. If you wish to voice support for this Petition effort to rescind Resolution 281, send an email to that effect to [email protected].
Dan Watson is the former chair of Bipartisan Coalition For New Council Leadership and has lived in Talbot County for the last twenty-five years.