It’s been nearly two years since Resolution 281 was passed on August 11, 2020, finally giving the green light to Lakeside after nearly two decades; and it’s been nearly a year ago now since two County Council members asked, “Is there any water that is not polluted?” and “How much time are we going to spend on this?”
The Planning Commission’s April 20 agenda included 14 resolutions. Resolution 327 would require Enhanced Nutrient Removal before additional connections can be made to Trappe’s wastewater treatment plant. This resolution differs from others offered recently, as it suggests that modular units might supplement Trappe’s plant rather than waiting for the plant’s upgrade to ENR. This resolution also requires the Planning Commission’s approval before the County Council can consider it.
Documents accompanying Resolution 327 included a Planning Commission Report focusing upon the requirements of our Comprehensive Plan and a transcript of one of our longest and possibly most informative County Council hearings of 2021. Dan Watson had filed a petition requesting that Resolution 281 be rescinded on May 7, 2021, and was finally granted permission, as required by law, to present his case 5 months later, on October 12, 2021.
Watson acknowledged that his presentation would take some time, and offered, “I understand the frustration, and I apologize; but this is the only opportunity petitioners have to put on the record and in front of the public and other authorities this wealth of information.” That was 6 months ago, and since then we have been hearing from representatives of the town of Trappe and the developer regularly. These voices could be worth recalling.
Photos have been taken of discharge visible on the surface of La Trappe Creek. Matt Pluta of ShoreRivers collected water samples over a period of 3 years, and samples taken at the point of discharge from Trappe’s plant contained 38mg/liter of nitrogen. The standard is 8mg/liter, and E-coli samples were 11-12 times the standard recommended. The Department of Natural Resources had also classified an area 200 feet downstream as restricted, and posted “no shellfish harvest is permitted” on their website.
Robert Croswell, former Trappe Town Council president and superintendent of the wastewater treatment plant, expressed his concern that “sludge handling is inadequate” and recommended “a moratorium on connections.”
Jim Smullens, a Talbot County resident and retired wastewater treatment analyst with over 20 years’ experience was “astounded at the lack of regulatory oversight,” and had “never seen anything like this in his career.” He noted, “Everywhere else in the world, MDE and the EPA do this, not county government” He also pointed out that “nitrogen is not in their permit. They have no requirement to remove nitrogen.”
Tom Alspach, speaking on behalf of Preservation Alliance, reminded our Council that due to advances in technology, Lakeside’s planned spray wastewater plant could operate at initial low flow rates. But depending upon how home sales go and when that plant might be constructed, the developer could remain on Trappe’s plant indefinitely.
The County has no say in the rights and responsibilities agreement between the town of Trappe and the developer; and what needs to be addressed is not only control of when a connection to Trappe will be discontinued, but that a connection should not be permitted until Trappe’s plant is upgraded to ENR. We were also reminded that state grants may be available.
Citizens then presented their concerns, and the Council was reminded, “This is your legacy.”
Our County Council has since been advised by Ryan Showalter, attorney for the developer’s trust, that Trappe’s wastewater treatment plant has experienced few infractions. They were not reminded of the duration of these violations or that Trappe must comply only to the requirements of the permit issued when their plant was installed. Nitrogen problems have been acknowledged, and will be addressed eventually.
Attorney Showalter has more recently reminded us that homes built in Tilghman are connected to Tilghman’s wastewater treatment plant despite its poor performance, and he reminded us of this again at the Planning Commission’s meeting. A few lots are still available there, but the Tilghman on Chesapeake development was essentially completed by 2005, before our Comprehensive Plan was updated to its current standards.
The Planning Commission had 14 resolutions for their consideration, several related to sewerage; and their discussion of these projects included concerns for capacity, critical area, and sea rise. When Resolution 327 was introduced, real estate attorney Ryan Showalter needed no introduction, He took a seat at the table and again reminded us that homes on Tilghman were connecting to an underperforming plant.
At this point he didn’t need to remind us that rules shouldn’t be different for Trappe. They shouldn’t be; but two wrongs have yet to make a right, and 120 homes in Lakeside are clearly of more consequence, both in number and public perception.
We’re reading about Lakeside in the Washington Post, and more of us are likely aware of our 2016 Comprehensive Plan’s directive to connect new development to “the most current state standard” for wastewater treatment than we were a few years ago. Resolution 327 will very likely be amended by our County Council to clarify its meaning at their next meeting, and could be back to our Planning Commission for consideration in May.
Carol Voyles is a graphic designer/illustrator who retired to the Eastern Shore and became interested in politics. She serves as communications chair for the Talbot County Democratic Forum and lives in Easton.