City of Baltimore may soon regain control of ailing water treatment plant
“I’m not going to say we don’t have concerns about the city’s handling of the facility,” Currey said at Tuesday’s meeting. “But what we’re going to do is work with the city to make sure the transition goes as smoothly as possible.”
Nearly 200 people attended Tuesday’s meeting organized by the Back River Restoration Committee, including many homeowners living along the river who expressed exasperation with the pollution from the plant – and that it may soon return to city control.
“Can the state somehow – somehow – say, ‘We don’t want 90 days. We are going to do six months. We’re going to do a year. Are we going to do two years? said county resident Joe Cooke, who lives near Todd Point along the Back River.
“I don’t know if we can legally do that,” Currey said. “What we can do is work with the city to say, ‘Okay, can we keep the MES in place?’ ”
Towards the end of Tuesday’s meeting, a representative from the Baltimore Department of Public Works revealed that he was present, but did not answer questions, sparking frustration among the crowd.
In a statement, the department said it planned to “connect soon with Essex community leaders to discuss the status of the Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant.”
She pointed to a recent progress report indicating that she had hired two additional technicians for the plant and reached an agreement with National Technology Transfer Inc. to provide more electrical training to staff.
Department spokeswoman Yolanda Winkler said the department is still in discussions about whether it wants the MES to remain in place after 90 days of compliance.
Some, including Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr., have suggested changes to the management of the plant, allowing the county to exercise more control, given that it pays to have its waste processed there.
MDE ordered the Maryland Environmental Service to resume operation of the city’s plant following an inspection that found serious maintenance issues causing months of excessive nutrient and bacteria releases into the river Back, which empties into the Chesapeake Bay. The Environmental Service, a government entity that operates small wastewater treatment facilities across the state, sent a team to assess the facility and initiate repairs.
The state said a similar team could be dispatched to the city’s other sewage treatment plant along the Patapsco River, where annual phosphorus and nitrogen pollution limits have been bypassed, and monthly violations continued into June. On Tuesday night, Currey said the state has prepared a draft agreement for the Maryland Environmental Department to come on-site at Patapsco and will seek approval from the city soon.
The city initially balked at state intervention in Back River, challenging it in court. But after negotiations, the city agreed to reimburse the state for its help with the plant. The state agreed he would leave once the plant reached 90 consecutive days of compliance.
So far, the Maryland Environmental Service has not received reimbursement for its assistance to the plant, said Charles Glass, its executive director. This tab includes the cost of sending mechanics and operators to the facility and completing works such as the rehabilitation of primary settling tanks where solid waste is separated from wastewater, which cost over $2 million , did he declare.
Under its agreement with the state, Baltimore has 30 days from the bill date to issue payment, though it can dispute some charges.
During his remarks on Tuesday, Glass said the MES is “demobilizing,” meaning staff members are starting to leave, after training city-employed operators. He added that the installation is “stabilized, but not resilient”.
“We don’t want to leave,” he said, “but we don’t control that.”
Throughout Tuesday’s meeting, frustrated residents lambasted city and state officials about the facility’s woes. How, they asked, did the factory fall into disrepair?
Currey said the plant was operating at a high level in 2019, following the installation of expensive “enhanced nutrient removal” technology paid for with public funds. An MDE inspection of the facility in 2018 found no lack of maintenance, he said.
But when the state returned for an inspection in 2021, equipment failures were evident. The city said the coronavirus pandemic, key employee departures and supply chain issues have all contributed.
During Tuesday night’s meeting, local homeowners shared how pollution from the factory has changed the way they interact with the waterway in their backyard.
“I can’t do anything on the river. My boat is hanging from the lift,” said Essex resident Jason Glanville. “I can’t even go forward to plug the plug in for fear of catching a[n] . . . infection.”
Some said they continue to see agglomerated material floating in Back River that they fear may have come from the plant. MDE scientists had previously concluded that some of the materials found floating in the river were mats of algae. The release of excess nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus, both found in wastewater, can cause excessive algae growth in water bodies, depriving them of oxygen and can kill sea life.
Other residents were concerned about individuals seen swimming and kayaking on the Back River or on Hart-Miller Island, located near the mouth of the river.
Baltimore County issued a public health advisory for the river and installed signage at Cox’s Point Park across the river from the sewage treatment plant, warning people to wash up if they come into contact with it. water due to high bacteria readings during some sampling efforts. , including just before the July 4 holiday. But no swimming advisories have been issued for popular Hart-Miller Island.
Dabney Maranto, who lives near Rocky Point Golf Course at the mouth of the Back River, said she thinks the county should robocall residents about any issues on the river, notifying more people of any readings. high in bacteria. She also hopes that a river guardian will be appointed for Back River.
During this time, she and her family avoided contact with the river as much as possible, she said.
“We go on our jet skis,” she said. “We climb straight up the ladder and jump on it. We do not enter the water. We do not kayak. We were kayaking every morning.
Residents like Maranto say they fear pollution from the Back River plant will impact the value of their properties, and it’s disheartening because of the taxes they pay for their waterfront homes. water.
“We pay the best taxes because we have this property that has a view of the water,” she said. “It’s a bit sad.”