The county council will hold a public hearing tonight on a resolution that would rescind sewer plan changes for the Lakeside/Trappe East project.
Council Vice President Pete Lesher introduced Resolution 308, which would rescind Resolution 281.
Resolution 281 was approved 4-1 by the Talbot County Council in August 2020; Lesher voted against approval. Resolution 281 included several amendments to the county’s comprehensive water and sewer plan, most notably in connection with the proposed 2,500-unit residential and mixed commercial development proposed for the northeast side of Trappe.
Those changes included a new wastewater treatment plant for the Trappe East project. The plant would treat wastewater at an enhanced nutrient removal (ENR) standard and discharge up to 540,000 gallons of wastewater per day as spray irrigation on adjacent fields.
Opponents are concerned about the environmental impact on nearby Miles Creek, which feeds into the Choptank River, and note the abysmal water quality of La Trappe Creek, another Choptank River tributary into which the existing Trappe sewer plant discharges its treated wastewater.
Environmental concerns were heightened earlier this year after problems at the town’s existing plant. Those concerns led the county planning commission this summer to seek additional information from the Maryland Department of the Environment, the town of Trappe, and the developer.
The Talbot County Planning Commission heard public comment Wednesday morning on those concerns and voted 3-2 Thursday night against a motion recommending that the county council rescind Resolution 281.
All five members had concerns about the town’s existing plant and the current condition of La Trappe Creek, but three agreed that the panel had been correct in voting last year to certify that Resolution 281 was consistent with the county’s comprehensive plan.
Those three members — Chairman Phil “Chip” Councell, Paul Spies, and Michael Strannahan — had voted to certify that Resolution 281 was consistent with the comprehensive plan. Commissioners William Boicourt and Lisa Ghezzi voted last year against certification and voted Thursday night to recommend rescission of Resolution 281.
Councell said he was trying to reach a middle ground that would result in the most timely upgrade to the existing Trappe plant and an improvement in its discharge.
Councell noted the commission had not been formally asked to review its decision on Resolution 281, but “felt we had to do something” when new information came to light.
“And that something in my opinion, was what can we do to protect La Trappe Creek?” Councell said. “(I)f we vote to rescind, it probably goes to court… (I)f this gets tied up in litigation, it goes on and on and on. The existing Trappe wastewater treatment plan continues to pump the water.
“So I’m struggling here right now, trying to figure out what is the fastest way to get that plant upgraded,” he said. “And no matter what happens today, tonight, no matter what happens next Tuesday, every citizen in this county needs to be committed to getting that plant where it needs to be, whatever it takes.
“And I think … it makes no sense to compound the problems that we know is a problem,” Councell said. “So we’re going to add one-third of the capacity to the existing plant…. But if we hold the process up for one year or two years, more than that, it’s going to go into La Trappe Creek anyway.
“I think I’m willing at this point to do everything in our power … short of rescission, because I honestly think that would be the worst thing for the Trappe wastewater treatment plant,” he said.
Attorneys for the Town of Trappe and the project’s developer noted they are looking at the possibility of using the Trappe East plant to treat the town’s existing wastewater to ENR standards and then sending the treated discharge back to the town’s discharge point. That option may be the fastest and cheapest way to upgrade the town’s wastewater treatment to ENR standards, which would significantly improve the town’s discharge into La Trappe Creek.
Ryan Showalter, an attorney for the developer, said Wednesday, “that’s an option that’s being studied, and one reason why it’s being studied as it may be the fastest way to replace or upgrade the town’s treatment process.
“The Lakeside plant is modular, so adding two additional modules could create 200,000 gallons of capacity in the existing Lakeside plant,” he said. “Nobody’s proposing changes in the discharge at this point.
“So the concept would be whatever comes from the the existing town’s collection system would be treated at Lakeside and would be discharged at ENR levels to La Trappe Creek,” Showalter said. “If one day there’s 150,000 gallons coming from the town collection system, that 150,000 gallons would be discharged under the town’s existing point discharge at ENR levels.”
Showalter also noted that nearly all of the Lakeside property has been designated as a future growth area for Trappe since 1973. The entire property has been in the town’s planned growth area since at least 2002 and in the county’s growth area plan for Trappe since at least 2005.
Bruce Armistead, an attorney for a neighboring property owner, said his clients — Dr. and Mrs. Steve Harris — were primarily concerned about the location of the spray irrigation fields.
“The Harrises are an adjacent landowner to the proposed Lakeside project and potentially the most affected by the entire project,” he said Wednesday. “That doesn’t mean that they’re unconcerned about the information you’re receiving about the existing Trappe plant, but their principal concern is the location of the spray fields that are proposed for the Lakeside project.”
Armistead said it appeared the planning commission may have received incomplete or inadequate information during its 2020 review of Resolution 281.
“And it really doesn’t matter whether that was inadvertent, intentional, sloppy, or whatever,” he said. “The fact is, if you agree that there was incomplete or incorrect information that was used to make your decision previously on 281, then you have an obligation to the county to support taking another look.
“Real people and property rights are going to be seriously affected by this proposal,” Armistead said. “We’ve only got one chance to get this right. And frankly, Dr. Harris does not want to be the canary in the mineshaft.”
The Talbot County Council meeting begins at 6 p.m., with public hearings scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. The council meets in the Bradley Meeting Room in the south wing of the courthouse, but seating is limited and is available on a first-come basis.
The meeting may be viewed online by going to the county’s website at https://talbotcountymd.gov, then scrolling down and clicking on the photo of the county council under the heading “Meeting Videos.” On the meeting videos page, click on video or live/in progress next to the listing for the council’s Oct. 12 meeting.
Letters to Editor
George Hulseman says
What time is the hearing?
John Griep says
Council meeting begins at 6 p.m.; public hearings begin at 6:30 p.m
James Brennan says
Many thanks to John Griep and The Spy for researching and publishing this article.
The story of the Lakeside at Trappe development so far is as murky as La Trappe creek, but an important simple fact that has come to light is that the septic sewage treatment plant in Trappe is not currently working effectively to keep the public and its property safe from harm. So what do we do next?
If I discovered the same situation on my own property my next step would be to get professional help to figure out how to address the problem (I’ll bet Talbot County would insist). I would not start a major construction project on my property and hope that would somehow improve the septic sewage problem I already knew about. That’s not logical.
I don’t believe that Trappe and Talbot County are helpless to address the broken sewage treatment plant on La Trappe creek.
If anyone working for Talbot County thinks we are incapable of fixing a septic sewage problem in Trappe that we all now know about, they should not be working for the County or representing Talbot’s citizens.