Given Lakeside’s troubled and disreputable history with permit approvals, It should surprise no one to learn suddenly that over three months ago Rocks and the Town of Trappe applied to MDE for a spray irrigation sewer discharge permit FOR THE NEXT PHASE of Lakeside—that is, the NEXT 400 homes, beyond the ones MDE okayed in October. Like other Lakeside matters (e.g., ownership), this permit application was anything but transparent, and contributes to distrust.
At the end of October–eighteen months after Lakeside’s first “final permit” was remanded by the Circuit Court, and a year after citizens packed the Community Center objecting to many facets of Lakeside’s plans for sewerage–MDE issued a drastically revised “final permit.” Capacity was reduced from 540,000 gallons per day to just 100,000, an 82% shrinkage! In terms of homes, under the current formula that permit supports 400 houses at Lakeside, vs 2501 (plus commercial space) in the plan.
Having heard the public (and looked at the science related to the proposed sewerage system), MDE seemingly has spoken. Importantly, MDE made clear that the initial approval did not include “future growth;” any application for later phases expressly requires MDE to undertake a new, from-the-start, review of all factors related to sewage–presumably including the operating performance of the initial treatment plant. And new public hearings.
Everyone—including County Council Members, I think–breathed a sigh of relief, thinking that, for now, MDE has limited the scale of the project, and nothing more would happen until most of the 400 homes were built out (about 50 are up now), the first phase of the plant was completed and proven operationally successful, and matters could be assessed by MDE. Phase II would be somewhere down the line, surely a couple of years.
Until last week, virtually no one was aware that back in December, apparently just six weeks after getting its permit for Phase I, Rocks and the Town of Trappe jointly submitted to MDE an application for another 100,000 gpd plant, supporting another 400 apartment units, townhomes, etc. Even the most active citizens and County Council Members I spoke to were unaware of the application—including at least one Member who had recently spoken directly with MDE.
The fact that MDE accepted the application says nothing beyond that; who knows what, if anything at all, they may have done with it? No permit has been issued, no hearing set…maybe it’s a nothing burger. But if so, then why the hurry? And why the secrecy?
The permit application was dated December 2nd, before our new County Council was even sworn in (and five days before the Town authorized it)–yet during Council meetings in December, January, and February where the phasing of Lakeside was discussed (and “Reset Lakeside” was killed off), no one mentioned it. Indeed, before the January 14th Council Meeting there was a joint meeting between the County and Trappe Town Councils to discuss the sewer situation and “what to expect in the near future…see how the developers are making out.” Attorneys and the County Engineer were present.
How could it be that, even there, no one brought up the fact that Rocks had already applied to MDE to add capacity for another 400 homes—an “addition” the size of the entire existing Town, by the way. At the County Council meeting later that day, all the talk was about close cooperation and trust between the County and the Town. Maybe it’s a one-way street.
Speaking of trust, in the middle of it all is the Rauch engineering firm. Rauch is Rocks’ engineer, handling all the Lakeside permits with MDE. In fact, Rauch was long portrayed as the actual developer of Lakeside, and many assume some partnership interest is involved. (The firm refused to answer that question last month in discovery related to a suit TIP brought concerning potential conflicts of interest, among other things.) But Rauch, Inc. is also the consultant to the County regarding the re-write of our Comprehensive Water and Sewer Plan, and for some months has attended, sometimes chaired, meetings between the Town of Trappe and various parties representing the County. The County relies on Rauch, Inc. as a trusted advisor in many key capacities, and there is quite a bit of interplay. Yet the County seems to have been left in the dark regarding December’s “Phase II” application–filed by Rauch.
I believe all of this just illustrates that Talbot County does not know what’s going on under its own nose, while the Lakeside developer, historically at least, runs rings around us.
ON RELATED MATTERS:
TIP’s MDE LAWSUIT: Recall that the Talbot Integrity Project and certain citizens sued MDE last May to rescind R281, to accomplish judicially what “Reset Lakeside” accomplished politically—until suddenly it hadn’t. Powerful arguments should carry the day, but only after hurdling a procedural challenge at a hearing coming up on April 14th.
LAWSUIT RE CWSP REWRITE: A taxpayer suit brought by one citizen and TIP to set aside the County’s award of the contract for Rauch, Inc. to rewrite the County’s Comprehensive Water and Sewer Plan is in the discovery phase. Rauch, Inc. has asked the Court (based upon a very recent case) to reconsider granting a dismissal on the grounds of standing. TIP contends the contract should be set aside because Rauch, Inc. assisted the County in preparation of the RFP and then bid on it, and because of alleged broad conflicts of interest Rauch, Inc. has with respect to Lakeside and other County matters. (See above.)
That’s the latest from here. Updates to follow.
The Talbot Integrity Project
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