CUMBERLAND — Councilman Dave Kauffman wants the mayor and City Council, county officials and the members of the District 1 legislative delegation to work as a united front when they present their issues and needs in Annapolis during the upcoming Maryland General Assembly.
“I truly believe that one of the problems we are having right now for Western Maryland is that Annapolis gets a lot of mixed messages,” said Kauffman. “There are too many messages that are being delivered and many times at cross purposes.”
Kauffman’s remarks were made during a work session of the mayor and council held Monday to prepare a list of legislative priorities for the delegation. City officials hope the delegation will promote the local agenda at the General Assembly which convenes Jan. 14.
“We need to feel as a municipality that our delegation are our advocates in Annapolis,” said Kauffman.
The topic most discussed as a priority for Cumberland is a remedy for its antiquated combined storm and sewer lines, frequently called the CSO or combined sewer overflow system. A plan to solve the CSO problem is needed. Currently during heavy rains, the system cannot handle the volume and pressure, causing excess effluent to be released into the Potomac River.
However, the price tag for Cumberland to separate all combined storm and sewer lines in the city would exceed $260 million.
The city has developed a plan, which has been approved at the state level, to store excess waste water in two 5-million-gallon storage tanks under the Mason Sports Complex.
“The MDE (Maryland Department of the Environment) has recognized that this is the appropriate way to move forward,” said Mayor Brian Grim.
MDE officials attended a meeting in March at City Hall and reiterated their support for the storage plan.
However, the cost of installing the underground storage tanks is $30 million. City officials have admitted that there is no way the city could pay for it without state or federal assistance.
To completely be in compliant with the state’s mandate to have all effluent dumping eliminated by 2023, an even larger project would be needed in Cumberland.
The $30 million initial storage-tank phase is the first of three phases in a $91 million abatement project.
“They are passing down the mandate and we don’t have the funds to pay for it,” said Dave Caporale, city councilman.
The mayor and City Council will most likely appeal to the delegation to get some answers in Annapolis this year.
“Maybe we should address the delegation to see how we can go about it through the state,” said Caporale.
Grim said last year city officials asked for language in state law that would help in funding.
“We weren't necessarily asking for mone, we were asking for a language change that would make the city eligible for additional dollars,” said Grim.
Grim is hoping that Del.-elect Mike McKay will get behind the city’s CSO project. McKay had indicated in the past that the city has not been focusing on the issue.
“I hope that with a county commissioner — who is now becoming part of the delegation — who has acknowledged this in the past year as an immediate priority for the county, that he would continue to recognize this as a immediate priority of the city,” said Grim.
Grim said the city has been working on a resolution to the CSO problem for several years.
“It is not appropriate for other officials and other individuals in the community to say the city hasn’t been significantly working on it,” said Grim.
Jeff Rhodes, city administrator, said the city has spent $12 million in construction and $4 million in engineering on CSO abatement to date.
Other legislative priorities include restoration of the state highway user revenue, easier approval of access permits and restored funding from Program Open Space.
Shawn Hershberger, economic development coordinator, said Sen. George Edwards may have a new program to help economically struggling Western Maryland.
“This year Sen. Edwards has spoken about a rural Maryland incentive program. Hopefully Sen. Edwards’ program can get a foothold,” said Hershberger.
Grim said he would organize all the suggestions from the council and help to condense the list into four priorities to present to the delegation Monday.
Greg Larry can be contacted at email@example.com