Over the pleas of his colleagues, Talbot County Council Vice President Pete Lesher introduced a resolution Tuesday night to rescind Resolution 281, in which the county supported the request of Trappe and a developer to amend the county’s comprehensive water and sewer plan for the Trappe East project.
The other four members of the Talbot County Council cited legal advice that the resolution, if approved, would accomplish nothing.
“My goal in this process is to give the issue a fresh public hearing for the benefit of both proponents and the skeptics,” Lesher said. “Resolution 281 came to the council at a time of a series of higher profile issues. And we’ve heard from a growing number of constituents who are concerned that their issues with this were not heard.
“And among those concerns is a provision of Resolution 281 that will allow the first 120 homes to be connected to Trappe’s existing secondary wastewater treatment plant, an outdated plant that discharges nutrients into an impaired waterway,” he said. “Trappe does eventually plan to upgrade this plant to modern ENR discharge standards, but that upgrade is still years away.”
County Attorney Patrick Thomas said the council’s approval of Resolution 281 essentially was the preliminary approval to change the water and sewer plan.
“(U)nder state law, once the council approves these comprehensive water and sewer plan amendments, they then have to go to MDE for final approval,” Thomas said. “MDE can then can deny it, they can approve it, they can amend it in part, they have … the final authority on that.”
After the council approved Resolution 281, the proposed amendment was sent to MDE, which approved it in November 2020.
“And then those amendments became part of the comprehensive water and sewer plan,” Thomas said. “So at this point, there’s nothing … for the council to rescind. (Y)ou gave your preliminary approval, it went on to MDE, they issued the final approval.”
The only way to undo Resolution 281 would be for the council to approve another amendment to the comprehensive water and sewer plan to revert it to its pre-281 status and for MDE to then approve that amendment, he said.
Councilman Frank Divilio said he had concerns about the Trappe East project, but rescinding Resolution 281 would be “a waste of time.”
Councilman Corey Pack agreed.
“I think that the county attorney has already laid out, succinctly, that 281 has already been incorporated to the comprehensive water and sewer plan and I don’t know how many times he can say that,” Pack said. “There is nothing here to rescind. This is a bridge to nowhere…. (I)t doesn’t accomplish anything.
“There is a way by which if you wanted to remove the changes of 281 from the comprehensive water and sewer plan, you would need to amend the comprehensive water and sewer plan,” he said. “This just doesn’t do it. Mr. Lesher, I’m sorry, it’s really putting the council in a bad position to put something on the agenda for a public hearing, which you very well know is not going to accomplish anything.”
Pack also noted that Resolution 281 contained some beneficial compromises between the county, town, and developer.
“There are those things built into 281 that were good. Going from a 2-foot freeboard to a three foot freeboard was a good thing. Going from 60 days of holding time to 75 days of holding time was a good thing,” he said. “So not everything in 281 to my point of view was bad.
Council President Chuck Callahan and Councilwoman Laura Price agreed that rescinding Resolution 281 would have no effect.
“I think there are some valid concerns and questions that need to be answered,” Price said. “But like my other colleagues, this is not the vehicle to do that.”
Price said the council would be able to make a more informed decision “on whether or not we … need to amend the comprehensive water and sewer plan” to address Resolution 281 after the Maryland Department of the Environment’s public hearing on the discharge permit for the Trappe East wastewater treatment plant.
That hearing had been set as a virtual hearing in early September but has been changed to an in-person hearing in late October at the Talbot County Community Center.
Asked what would happen if the council approved Lesher’s resolution, Thomas, the county attorney, said, “I don’t think it would have any effect. It’s not amending the comprehensive (water and sewer) plan.”
After additional discussion, a majority of the county council voted to schedule a public hearing for the rescission resolution at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 12.