Guest Comment from QAC Commissioners Regarding Southern Kent Island Sewer

Southern Kent Island (SKI) septic systems are failing. Nine communities; Romancoke, Kent Island Estates, Tower Gardens, Queen Anne Colony, Kentmoor, Chesapeake Estates, Sunny Isle of Kent, Normans, and Matapeake Estates are all experiencing failing septic systems. Fortunately at this point it is not a plumbing problem for most (although we are seeing more complete system failures) homeowners in these communities can still flush their toilets, do laundry and take showers. Functional plumbing does not mean their septic systems are not failing though. During periods of seasonal high water levels (winter and spring) the groundwater permeates the drain fields resulting in untreated effluent draining directly into the groundwater. This is the definition of a failed system.

For decades the plan has been to run a traditional sewer line to these communities, hook up the homes, and pump it all to the treatment plant on Kent Island. The difficulty in implementing this plan has been twofold; the cost of the project to the homeowners and the amount of vacant lot development (infill) allowed. It has frankly been easier for past administrations to “kick the can down the road” as opposed to finding a solution. This administration is committed to finding a solution.

The cost of a project of this magnitude is daunting; north of $60 million for a traditional vacuum system. Advances in other wastewater collection systems, specifically the Septic Tank Effluent Pump (STEP), have made this a viable and less costly alternative. The STEP system consists of a septic tank that collects the house waste and a high-head pump that pumps the effluent (gray water) to the treatment plant. The solids stay in the tank and are pumped out periodically (every 5-10 years). No drain field, no groundwater contamination, and no septic reserve restrictions on homeowners preventing them from adding additions, garages, etc. The cost of the STEP system is still substantial, roughly $37 million, but manageable and we are working diligently with the state to identify funding to help offset the cost.

One avenue for this funding is through the Bay Restoration Fund (BRF). Established in 2004 the BRF receives its funding through two sources; a $5 monthly fee on homes served by a wastewater treatment plant, reserved for treatment plant upgrades, and a $60 annual fee from homes with septic systems (aka the flush tax), reserved in part for septic system upgrades. The septic system upgrades consist of funding for Best Available Technology (BAT) systems, which unfortunately are ineffective on SKI due to the previously mentioned high water table; and community sewer hookups assuming the communities meet certain state criteria.

Meeting these state criteria is what we are currently discussing with our partners at the State. A change in state legislation to allow for the nine communities on SKI to access BRF dollars will need to be enacted and we are hopeful that this will happen during the 2014 Maryland General Assembly legislative session. It is important to note that the current BRF legislation restricts infill development and the proposed legislation could be equally restrictive.

Although the BRF would not fully fund the project, it would reduce the cost to existing homeowners thereby making the project feasible without requiring an excessive number of new users; through infill development, to help fund the project.

We will continue to work diligently to address this problem and will provide frequent updates, such as this, to keep the public informed on our progress.