Congressman Bennie Thompson (D-MS) recently expressed his concern regarding the ability of towns and states to work together to address problems. That struck a chord, as similar concerns have been heard here recently concerning the town of Easton possibly working more closely with the county to address issues of planning for growth.
Talbot County Council Vice President Pete Lesher has reminded us that our comprehensive plan will be updated, and we should pay attention. This plan outlines a vision for our future and will impact decisions for years to come. The county is currently in the process of updating our comprehensive water and sewer plan. This process will take some time, as it includes the participation of our county council, planning commission, county staff, various consultants, committees, and citizens.
Focusing growth into towns with existing infrastructure is part of the county’s plan. Talbot’s population has also remained relatively stable over the past decade, but we’re now hearing concerns for traffic and schools already filled to capacity. Maryland code must also be considered. The smart growth principles required by Maryland’s Smart and Sustainable Growth Act include planning for the timing and implementation of development.
A planning meeting for the updating of our comprehensive water and sewer plan was held on August 30 at the Talbot County Health Department Office of Environmental Health. It included members of the department of environmental health and public works and reflected the agenda of a meeting held earlier that day with Rauch, Inc., the firm hired to update the plan.
Matters discussed included the performance of existing systems, planned improvements, and environmental issues; and there is clearly work to be done in Wye Mills, Bozman, Neavitt and other locations. Businesses on parts of Route 50 can no longer expand due to sewerage limitations, and spray wastewater irrigation in Wye Mills is now county owned. The county wants to avoid privately owned wastewater treatment facilities in the future; but to do that “we need legislation,” according to county engineer Ray Clarke. We were also advised that Lakeside’s method of wastewater treatment will be changed to “point source discharge.”
PBS aired a documentary that evening of the elaborately constructed (and walkable) sewer system still in use in London today. Built during the Victorian era, these impressive pathways under the city took eight years to complete and are still in service today. Nice perspective.
Members of the planning commission and county council joined the public works advisory board and Rauch team for a planning session on September 7. We were reminded that our current comprehensive water and sewer plan was written in 1992 and last reviewed in 2002. These plans ideally span 10 years and are reviewed every 3 years. We’re not the only county falling behind, though. We have company.
Bob Rauch of Rauch, Inc., provided a bit of background. Born and raised in Talbot County, he’s lived here all his life. He was our first county engineer, wrote our county’s first plan, and is now town engineer for seven communities and a registered engineer in three states. Bob Rauch currently owns a construction consulting business – and he knows the infrastructure of Talbot County.
Bill Anderson of the public works advisory board offered, “We are all impressed by your credentials, but there are concerns over potential conflicts of interest.” This issue would have to be addressed eventually.
As Bill Boicourt, chair of the planning commission, acknowledged, “We know what the elephant in the room is.” Rauch is clearly more than qualified to do this work; but our ethics ordinance is also clear, and there seems to be no disclosure of possible conflicts of interest in the contract.
There were also questions concerning authority in wastewater treatment matters. Mr. Rauch offered, “These (towns) are independent, sovereign entities with their responsibility to do what they need to do within their jurisdictions. The county’s responsibility is to incorporate those plans and be the keeper of those plans.”
He explained further, “The water and sewer plan simply tells you how we’re going to implement what’s in the comprehensive plan, and I’m not creating those, you all are.” He also concurred with a comment suggesting that our Talbot County Comprehensive Plan would ideally have been updated before our water and sewer plan. That would facilitate planning.
Steve Alfaro of the resources planning division of Maryland Department of the Environment clarified matters. The county is our governing body in wastewater treatment matters; and unless town plans conform to county plans, they may not be executed. The approval of wastewater treatment plans and movement from one classification to another during this process requires the approval of our planning commission and county council. S & W classifications are also being modified from a range of 1-3 to 1-6 to conform to COMAR standards. W-1 now means “either already existing or under construction.”
This meeting was being recorded, and Ray Clarke, county engineer, reminded us, “Every meeting associated with comprehensive water and sewer plan, we will be recording that.”
Lisa Ghezzi, member of the planning commission, appreciated this transparency.
Planning commission members then shared schedules for meetings with towns. Rauch had sent each town a summary of requested attendance, subjects to be discussed and documentation required. This is the data collecting stage for updating our Talbot County Comprehensive Water and Sewer Plan.
Chuck Callahan, county council president, said, “This is a great start.”
Carol Voyles is a graphic designer/illustrator who retired to the Eastern Shore and became interested in politics. She serves as communications chair for the Talbot County Democratic Forum and lives in Easton.