Delegate listens to, offers help for Secretary’s woes

SECRETARY — The Secretary Town Commission welcomed State Delegate Chris Adams to its Nov. 2 meeting. Delegate Adams noted he is visiting town meetings throughout the 37B district which he and Delegate Johnny Mautz represent.
Mr. Adams took copious notes as Mayor Susan Dukes described problems the town faces. His offer to help was gratefully accepted. He explained that the difficulties facing Secretary are similar to those faced by municipalities and counties throughout the Eastern Shore.

The delegate is a 5th generation Eastern Shoreman and a small businessman. He is “aware of the challenges” faced by towns and counties in keeping up with state and federal mandates and noted “that story repeats itself throughout the district.” He feels the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) “has unfairly targeted the Eastern Shore and our towns” but thinks they are finally looking at pollution from Pennsylvania. He said, “There are three dams north of Conowingo that have completely failed so now we’re talking about including large cities in the runoff. There is a real effect on the Eastern Shore and a real cost to citizens. These frustrations are real and really burdensome.”

At a recent meeting with the state Regulatory Commission, Mayor Dukes and other officials heard 4 hours of testimony by people upset with unresponsive state agencies. A project in dire need of funding has been met with a lack of response. The Twin Cities Waste Water Treatment Plant that serves Secretary, East New Market and the Green Point community is on its last legs and no repair will meet stringent federal/state environmental requirements. “Our plant will never be able to remove the phosphorus and nitrates from the lagoon system,” even with treatment. “There are so many reasons why we feel the state should be more involved in getting a new plant there. We’ve told the state that we would be willing to include more outlying districts with septic systems into a new plant.”

“We are at a total standstill now until the first of the year,” said Ms. Dukes. “We really want to see this thing move forward again but there has to be funding.” The funded $300,000 engineering study by ARRO Engineering is completed but the next phase is stalled. “Now we are supposed to pick the plant we want and move into the funding area and then into construction. Until we get the funding in place we can’t move forward.”

The project estimate is about $14 million. Mayor Dukes noted they have the potential for $9 million in funding from the USDA and MDE but will need an additional $5 million. Asked about federal funding, Mayor Dukes said she has been unable to get a response from Sen. Mikulski or Sen. Cardin representatives. Delegate Adams offered his help in finding answers on federal funding possibilities.

An “opt-out” for counties that did not wish to require sprinkler systems in new single family homes construction expired in July and Eastern Shore counties would like the freedom to decide whether or not to require them. Mayor Dukes and Delegate Adams both noted that since the regulation was enforced there has only been one permit requested in Dorchester, Wicomico, or Caroline counties.

Mr. Adams is a builder. He said the estimated costs of $1.25/sq. ft. projected by the State Fireman’s Association to build a new home with sprinkler systems are “not the case at all.” He explained that a 1,200 sq. ft. starter ranch home in Wicomico County would be $6,000 for the system assuming there is city water. With a well, the costs rise an additional $15-20,000. “The problem is this is no longer affordable housing.” Small builders will not build; appraisals do not consider sprinkler systems as valuable; and banks will not lend money. The regulation, he says, has “basically killed affordable housing except for townhouses and apartments.”

“My main issue here is not that ‘water puts out fire,’ but this is deeply affecting the way of life for many. We as an Eastern Shore delegation feel we have to act on this. The challenge is it’s being billed as a ‘fireman vs developer,’ and that’s unfortunate. The strategy is to give back control to local counties to make their own decisions. This happens to be just one of many issues about local control.” He added, “If the opt out doesn’t pass how can the regulation make people safer if we’re not building homes?”

Asked about progress with the marina dredging project and Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) approval, Ms. Dukes said, “We’re moving forward like we have the permit. The site was approved by the county and is ready; we’re just waiting for final approval.”

In a Banner interview, DNR Regional Program Director Sandi Pepe says she is coordinating the dredging spoils project with Dorchester County Engineer Greg LeBlanc. The site is prepared at the Beulah landfill with environmental controls in place. Following an upcoming meeting with Ms. Pepe, town officials, and consulting engineer Charles “Buck” Emory the project is scheduled to move forward based on the assumption that it will shortly gain MDE approval.

Susan Bautz is a freelance writer for the Dorchester Banner.

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