CUMBERLAND — Members of the District 1 legislative delegation urged Cumberland’s mayor and City Council on Monday to consider all options to remedy Cumberland’s aging sewer and storm water line issue, which could cost in excess of $90 million to repair.
Known as a CSO system, Cumberland’s antiquated combined storm/ sewer system is considered one of the largest CSO challenges in the state. Currently, during heavy rains, when pressure builds on the combined sewer and storm lines, it is relieved by releasing the excess effluent into the Potomac River at stations along the river known as outfalls.
The state has placed all municipalities with CSO systems on notice that the practice of dumping effluent into waterways must cease by 2023.
“We are in need of the state to help us with this mandate,” said Mayor Brian Grim.
The topic of the CSO was the top issue on city officials’ agenda when they met Monday at Canal Place to present their priorities to the District 1 legislative delegation. The delegation will be promoting the needs of the city and other agencies in Annapolis when the Maryland General Assembly convenes on Jan. 14.
Sen. George Edwards, a delegation member along with Del. Wendell Beitzel and Dels.-elect Mike McKay and Jason Buckel, agreed with Grim on the state’s demands.
“The state is mandating something; they need to help pay for it,” said Edwards.
The city’s plan to prevent the dumping of effluent into the Potomac River is a $91 million project largely based on using underground storage tanks to hold the effluent until it can be neutralized at the wastewater treatment plant in South Cumberland. The city plans to complete the project in phases. The first phase, at a price tag of $30 million, will be the placing of a 5-million-gallon storage tank underground at the Mason Sports Complex.
“We would like to see the state pay for 87.5 percent of the cost,” said Grim.
Other municipalities such as LaVale and Frostburg, who are online with Cumberland’s wastewater treatment system, are concerned about the cost they will have to bear for Cumberland’s CSO abatement project. The municipalities who are paying for work to solve their own CSO problems, feel they will also have to pay for Cumberland’s in the form of higher rates.
Delegation members also have reservations about Cumberland’s proposed solution. They feel it does not address the larger problem of aging sewer and storm lines that will remain joined.
“To my way of thinking of the storage facility, it’s like the Dutch boy putting his finger in the dike or putting a Band-Aid on the thing. You’re always going to have the flow and the pipes will deteriorate,” said Beitzel.
“I think there is possibly another way,” said McKay.
“I’m not sure it will solve the problem,” said Buckel.
“I think we need to take a hard look at this and say let’s try to make it right now, so you don’t have to worry about it,” said Edwards.
Edwards suggested looking into separating some of Cumberland’s most problematic combined lines and thereby reducing the amount of storage needed.
Grim, in a Times-News interview following the meeting, reiterated his position that the storage tank solution, which has been approved by the Maryland Department of the Environment, is the least expensive and most effective method.
“The delegation is being responsible. But in the end, it’s the lowest cost option,” said Grim.
To separate all of the sewer and storm lines in the city is projected to cost roughly $250 million. Grim said building new wastewater treatment plants would also cost “tens of millions of dollars.” A hybrid plan to separate some lines and use storage tanks as well would also cost more than the proposed plan already on the table, according to Grim.
Officials agreed to continue to discuss the problem with all parties involved.
Other priorities the city presented to the delegation included lobbying the state to restore highway user revenues to jurisdictions. In prior years, the state was paying municipalities to provide maintenence for roads but the funding has all but ceased.
Grim also asked the delegation to promote business development for the city and to support a private project to develop the Footer Dye Works building.
City officials would also like to see a stronger stance against crime by continuing the support for the Safe Streets Initiative, which funds police officers for overtime to perform monthly warrant sweeps. Grim also would like to see prison inmate rotation and stronger judicial sentencing guidelines.