Suicide Bridge to connect to Hurlock treatment plant

Special to Dorchester Banner A Hurlock police car stands as a memorial offered to the five fallen police officers gunned down in Dallas, Texas. Area citizens placed flowers, ribbons, flags, and personal notes in support of the families and friends of the slain officers.

Special to Dorchester Banner/Susan M. Bautz
A Hurlock police car stands as a memorial offered to the five fallen police officers gunned down in Dallas, Texas. Area citizens placed flowers, ribbons, flags, and personal notes in support of the families and friends of the slain officers.

HURLOCK — The July 11 Hurlock Town Council meeting began calmly enough. Mayor Joyce Spratt read a heartwarming e-mail from Dallas, Texas police officers who thanked Hurlock for honoring their five fallen officers. A police car, festooned with flowers and messages of support from local citizens, is displayed in the 1880 Bank parking lot.

By mid-meeting, however, the gathering bordered on the contentious. Communication, always a challenge, was at the root of the problem. On the agenda was a piece of Old Business: Approval of the Suicide Bridge Service Line Agreement. Town Attorney Robert Merriken suggested that approval of the draft agreement required only a verbal resolution and vote.

Councilman Charles Cephas moved that the agreement be approved subject to corrections. On the agenda, the project was described simply as a “service line agreement” with no further clarification. At that point, resident Frank Bittner asked if there would be a public hearing for townspeople to ask questions about the agreement.

When Mayor Spratt responded, “We’ve done that several times,” there were murmurs of “no, it has not been done.” Mr. Bittner said, “We have some questions about it.”

Mayor Spratt again said, “This has been discussed several times.”
Pat Finley, chair of the Hurlock Citizens Group, said, “Where? You’ve discussed it in closed session. You’ve never had it in open session.”
The mayor answered, “We’ve discussed it in public.”

A review by the Banner of tapes from Town Council meetings from January to July showed only one reference to the agreement. A statement prepared by Mr. Avery and read at the Feb. 8 town council meeting read: An executive (closed) session will be held “to consider a matter that concerns the proposal for a business to relocate or expand or remain in the state; to consider a matter pertaining to Suicide (Bridge).”

Cederick Turner, chair of the Hurlock downtown committee, asked “What are you signing off on? Is it a secret?” Mr. Avery emphasized, “No.”

Ms. Spratt presented the history of and reasons for the draft agreement. “We have been taking the sewage from Suicide Bridge Restaurant all along. This changes nothing. They’re going to run a line to a pump station at their cost, not ours, and it will go straight to our sewage plant. There is nothing hidden about it.”

Mr. Avery clarified that the restaurant has its own septic system. “The liquid goes into the drain fields and directly into the river. The solids are pumped out and hauled to our waste water treatment plant. The only thing being done is eliminating the drain fields and the liquid will be carried by pipe to our plant. That’s what the agreement is – to accept that, and it is essentially the same as the agreement with Dorchester County to accept sewage from the two school zones.”

He added that the town will check and maintain the system, except for the pumping station, and any costs for the piping system will be reimbursed to the town by Suicide Bridge.

Councilman Earl Murphy noted there were three options for the restaurant: One was to close and move its operations elsewhere; second was the prohibitive cost of re-doing the drain fields; and third, asking if a sewer line to a treatment plant was a possibility. “The possibility became a request, and that’s where we are tonight.”

Councilman Cephas noted the document will be available to “any citizen who wants it once the corrections are made.”

Ms. Finley said “I understand there is a public hearing with the county office folks on the 19th because we need permission for the change.” The mayor responded, “The county has already agreed to it and that’s just a formality. Everyone totally agreed with it.”

Another apparent public concern is the size of the pipe. Ms. Finley suggested the possibility of exemption requests to tie into the line for future development. But, noted Mr. Avery, “The answer to that is ‘no.’ It’s a restricted access, dedicated line. That’s in the agreement.”

Ms. Finley again requested a copy before the Tuesday night county council hearing. Mr. Avery said it would be available when it is approved and signed by all parties.

Mayor Spratt asked Ms. Finley why she is opposed to the agreement to which Ms. Finley responded, “I don’t object to it.” In fact, it did not appear that anyone was opposed to the agreement and any disagreements between the council, mayor, and citizens appeared to be misunderstandings based on a desire for information and not receiving it.

Councilman Cephas again offered to provide the agreement after the approval process. The councilman said, “I think they have been transparent about this.” But not everyone agreed. Ms. Finley explained that her problem was she did not know any of the specifics.

Resident Claudia Fahey interjected, “I think what I’m hearing is that you guys think we should just trust you blindly. We’d just like some information.”
Defending the council, Councilman Earl Murphy said, “We look at these things as they come. “You have elected us to represent you. The privilege I have is to look at these things and vote as I see best for the town. These things are discussed so we can represent you properly.”

Ms. Fahey responded, “All we’re saying is ‘we just want to know.’”

To clarify the purpose of the July 16 public hearing in the County Council meeting room, the Banner spoke with County Manager Jeremy Goldman. He explained the county code requires a public hearing if a resolution amends a county plan. Dorchester County adopted its Comprehensive Water and Sewer Master Plan on March 16, 2004. Resolution 587, subject of the hearing, “changes the designation of an area,” Suicide Bridge restaurant.

The resolution, slated for a vote next Tuesday reads, “A request was filed by Suicide Bridge, Inc., to amend the text, charts, and map to accommodate plans to connect the restaurant to a public wastewater collection and treatment system that can provide high quality treatment of all wastewater generated by” the restaurant. It explains that Hurlock is permitted an extension of the municipal sanitary system property and the restaurant owner is responsible for all costs of the proposed designated access line. The public hearing will be followed by a vote to certify that the amendment meets the requirements of the county’s master plan.

According to Mr. Goldman, “the line is not large enough volume wise to accept waste from anyone other than Suicide Bridge. It’s not a large municipal sewer main; it’s really just enough to deal with the waste stream that they (Suicide Bridge) have and the pumping station that they need to access in order to go into the larger system.”

Mr. Goldman explained that the area outside of the town limits is currently identified for growth in the Comprehensive Plan. However, the privately owned access line is not only too small for additional access but the agreement restricts the owner from selling access to it.

Mr. Goldman explained that the county supports the amendment because, “When the county says ‘we’re open for business,’ we mean it and we’ve been very forward in doing whatever is necessary to legally assist businesses, and this is an excellent example.”

The occasionally heated discussion began and ended with town officials assuming citizens’ questions meant opposition to the agreement, and citizens feeling town officials did not understand that they were simply seeking information to dispel rumors concerning a project about which they had no information. As George Bernard Shaw said, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

Susan Bautz is a freelance writer for the Dorchester Banner.

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