Cost Projections Rise Again For Sewage Plant Expansion Plan - Southern Maryland Headline News

Cost Projections Rise Again For Sewage Plant Expansion Plan

By Guy Leonard, County Times

HOLLYWOOD, Md. (Jan. 31, 2008)—Just a few weeks ago the Metropolitan Commission released figures that showed their plans to expand the county’s main sewage treatment plant, the Marlay-Taylor facility, could cost an estimated $94 million, about four times more than originally expected.

Now, near the end of January, the cost projection, including administrative costs and engineering, is up to about $125 million.

It’s a projection that MetCom’s director Steven King said must come down.

“I’m not satisfied with $125 million,” King told The County Times. “We’re going to do everything we can to get those costs down.”

Design and construction are large percentages of the hefty price tag, King said, but so is the new technology set to go into the plant that will make removal of nitrogen-based contaminates much more efficient to meet state mandates by 2011.

The aim of the plant expansion is to increase the sewage treatment capacity from six million to nine million gallons of water a day.

Currently the plant is running with about two million gallons of treatment capacity to spare, King said, but on paper the county has already made enough treatment allocations for development, EDUs (Equivalent Dwelling Units), to max out that capacity in the next few years if the plant is not expanded.

King said the county is still on course to make the necessary expansion, even if it is in stages to reduce the short term costs and provide a larger cushion for development before the actual capacity of the plant is met.

"We're on schedule to get that done before we reach the plant's capacity," King said, reiterating how critical the expansion was for the county's continued growth. "What choice do we have? We just can't throw our hands up."

Jeff Jackman, a senior planner with the county's Department of Land Use and Growth Management (LUGM), said the county now has a better method of tracking the EDU allocations for development than it had in prior years.

He said that during the record keeping process, some allocations were not counted in assessing how much capacity was left at the Marlay-Tay-lor plant. He added that while some went uncounted in the analysis, some were counted as many as two times.

"They weren't calculated very precisely," Jackman said. "But I don't think we're in a panic mode at all."

King said an audit of allocations was conducted last year that stretched all the way back to 1981, when the process first began, and that even with the discrepancies corrected, the plant was still found to be operating within current capacity.

Aside from other cost saving measures, like being judicious about what apparatus needed replacing at the facility, the cost of the expansion would likely be born by customers. The plant currently serves the entire Lexington Park Development District, the largest in the county. One option included recycling highly treated, but not potable, water back to customers for irrigation and flushing toilets only.

"It's going to be much more difficult to finance [at the $125 million price tag]," King said. "It's going to raise rates more than we expected."

There are $32 million set aside in the capital improvement budget to expand the Marlay-Taylor facility.

King said another engineering consultant was being soughtto cut costs in the expansion design and construction.

"We have to find a way to reduce these costs and we will," King said. "$125 million is not, in my opinion, reasonable."

King said a failure to expand the plant on time would have the effect of halting development in the Lexington Park area, but so would a failure to meet the state's mandate of having only three milliliters of nitrogen contaminates per gallon in drinking water by 2011.

That translated into a limit of only 73,000 pounds of nitrogen load produced each year from the plant, King said.

"If we can't meet that cap, that'll stop development," King said. "We will meet that cap somehow someway."

County Commissioner Larry Jarboe (R-Golden Beach) said that with rising costs for even-thing from fuel to construction materials and a recession looming, the expansion of vital infrastructure like water and sewer could become almost prohibitively costly.

"It could get pretty tight," Jarboe said, adding that there could be a rough bright side to the looming recession and its subsequent slowing-down effect on new construction.

"That's going to hold back a lot of this development," Jarboe said. "It's maybe bought us a little time.

"There's a little bit of breathing room... that's almost a blessing."

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