Guest Comment from QAC Board of Commissioners: Southern Kent Island Residents to be Surveyed About Septic and Sewer Systems

A survey commissioned by the Queen Anne’s County Commissioners was mailed the first week of December to residents of nine communities off Route 8 in South Kent Island where the County is contemplating extending public sewer. The public sewer extension’s purpose would be to relieve public health hazards arising from failing septic systems that have burdened these communities for decades.

The failures arose as construction of the homes in the communities occurred before meaningful septic system regulation existed. Studies show the only permanent solution is to provide public sewer to the 1518 existing homes.

The survey’s purposes are to gauge both community support for the County providing public sewer and the recognition of problems arising from septic system failures. Those problems include difficulty in selling homes and recent Health Department orders to replace failing septic systems with holding tanks that must be pumped out regularly at a great continuing cost.

The survey is being conducted by the Center for the Study of Local Issues at the Anne Arundel Community College, with whom the County has contracted. The Center has extensive experience in conducting and analyzing surveys.

Providing the public sewer is an expensive undertaking, estimated to cost around $50 million. The County envisions the cost to existing homeowners will not exceed $100 per month. This charge is not sufficient to cover ongoing payments for the bonds needed to finance the project. This funding shortfall would be backfilled by grants from the State’s Bay Restoration Fund, which is funded by flush fee revenues, and higher charges for development of vacant lots.

There are approximately 1,600 vacant lots in the communities, which might be able to access the public sewer. These lots cannot develop now, as septic systems cannot be approved.

To limit development and promote uniformity, County legislation has been introduced to require the vacant lots be consolidated, where possible, to conform to existing zoning. That zoning generally limits development to lots at least 20,000 square feet. This required consolidation would leave about 658 lots for development.

Past experience indicates that approximately 85% or 560 lots will ultimately develop. And, that development will occur over many years. The vacant lots would be assessed an economic benefit assessment, reflecting the increased value arising from the access to public sewer. This charge would be a component to addressing the funding shortfall and help reduce the costs charged to existing homeowners to $100 per month.

The needed access to Bay Restoration Funds will require State legislation. County officials have been meeting with State officials of the Departments of Environment and Planning, seeking support for such legislation. The conversations have been encouraging. The Maryland Association of Counties is also supporting the effort, making the legislation one of its priorities.

“The hard work and diligence of County Public Works, Planning, Health, and Finance staff has been critical to finally coming up with a doable plan to address this longstanding and complicated challenge,” said County Commission President Phil Dumenil. “I want to also recognize the efforts of former Commission President and now Delegate Steve Arentz and Commissioner Bob Simmons for staying engaged. The time has finally come to lay this problem to rest.”

Background on the project can be found on the Queen Anne’s County website at http://www.qactv.com/home/ski-sanitary-project/. Not only will you find background documents on that site, but also nine short videos addressing components of the project.