The citizens of Maryland’s Eastern Shore have a right to be outraged by the saga that’s unfolding with the Lakeside development in Trappe. Talbot County has the responsibility to plan for the adequate treatment of wastewater from this massive, 2,500 unit residential and commercial project, and the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) must decide whether to approve it. Neither of those things are happening.
In 2016, the Talbot County Council redesignated areas for growth around Trappe in its comprehensive plan. But it expected that high-performing “Enhanced Nutrient Removal” (ENR) treatment technology would be installed to treat wastewater from any new development in the town. “Such upgrades will be necessary to support projected growth in Trappe,” the plan reads. This type of wastewater treatment removes the highest amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus, in turn providing the greatest protection to local waters and the Chesapeake Bay.
The county followed through by amending its water and sewer plan to program ENR at Trappe’s existing wastewater system, noting the facility “is approaching 20-years of service and is in need of upgrades to continue to serve the community.” Representatives of the Lakeside developer have repeatedly said that ENR treatment in Trappe is the ultimate goal.
But when Talbot County council members Laura Price and Pete Lesher introduced multiple resolutions that would formally plan for the very upgrades that are called for, the remaining council majority voted them down. This is in conflict with the county’s own planning commission, which found the resolutions consistent with the county comprehensive plan to the extent they specify that no new homes should be connected to the Trappe wastewater treatment facility unless it meets ENR standards.
Now the Maryland Department of the Environment, which is reviewing a wastewater permit for Lakeside, is left wondering what to do. “Based on the conflicting actions taken by the Talbot County Council and the Talbot County Planning Commission, MDE is unable to determine the actual positions of the county,” the agency wrote in February.
This is more than a passing statement. MDE has a statutory obligation to base its wastewater permitting decisions on the adequacy of amendments like the ones Talbot County made in its water and sewer plan to serve Lakeside.
And so it’s ironic that while a council majority voted against the ENR requirement to expedite the project, there almost certainly will be more delay. MDE cannot issue a wastewater permit for Lakeside if the agency is unable to determine that the county’s plans are adequate.
Because of this, our own scientific review, and overwhelming public concern, denying the wastewater permit for Lakeside is exactly what MDE should do.
Alan Girard is the Eastern Shore Director for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation