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Funding delays snag Eagle’s Landing irrigation progress

(April 3, 2015) Were it simply a matter of laying pipe, getting permits and finding contractors, the job would have been completed by now, but since it involves federal, state, county, municipal and private entities and the bureaucratic quagmire enveloping them, getting the spray irrigation apparatus at Eagle’s Landing up and running might not happen this year, or possibly even next.

The Worcester County Commissioners last fall approved a deal to allow treated effluent from the Mystic Harbour Wastewater Treatment Plant to be sprayed on the city-owned Eagle’s Landing golf course, primarily because spray irrigation is the “preferred source” of effluent disposal listed in the county’s comprehensive plan.

The first choice for effluent disposal, the Ocean City Airport, stalled because of failed negotiations with the Federal Aviation Administration. The golf course was tapped as a viable alternative.

As part of the deal, the county would connect the airport, the nearby Humane Society, a maintenance building and the golf course to Mystic Harbour. In exchange for the ability to divert effluent for treatment at the West Ocean City sewer system when the golf course wasn’t available for spraying, the county waived connection fees and agreed to upgrade Eagle’s Landing’s existing irrigation structure.

John Ross, deputy director of public works for the county, said the existing irrigation system needed to be replaced anyway, and gave the county a good opportunity to lay groundwork for the forthcoming irrigation upgrade ahead of time.

Bob Mitchell, director of environmental programs, said the transition of those properties to the Mystic Harbour system represents a significant achievement in terms of the county’s goal to move away from septic systems in favor of public utilities.

Meanwhile, Ocean City officials have voiced their concern over the project’s pace.

“I know Ocean City’s frustration at this. Believe me, I know I want to get this project done but unfortunately we have to go through step one, step two, step three — it’s kind of the way it works,” Ross said.

“They’re not used to dealing with that — we are,” Mitchell said.

“At the end of the day it all revolves around money. It’s not a small step, it’s not a small project – it’s over $3 million, of which Ocean City is doing about half,” Ross said.

The project requires planning approval, which it has, locally, through the Planning Commission and the County Commissioners.

“We’re waiting for the state to come back on that,” Mitchell said, adding he expects the approval to be granted soon.

“But regardless of the planning process, we also need to have the money to do it. We have filed an application with the federal government, the same people who helped us complete the Mystic Harbour plant, and they said verbally they think we’re going to get the money,” Ross said.

If the project were to receive funding, Ross said the money would need to be allocated by May 1.

“So we’re kind of sitting on our hands with regards to this project,” Ross said, “because we don’t want to commit to contracts until we have it in writing. Plus, we’re going to have to have a public hearing.”

Part of the public hearing would have to provide information on rate impacts.

“One of the things the funding agencies are doing is giving us a combination of grants and loans … and we don’t have any idea what that breakdown is,” Ross said.

“They told us we were going to get the money but not what the mix is,” Mitchell agreed.

That mix will affect the one thing everyone will want to know coming out of the public hearing.

“How much of that is going to come out of our pocket? Well, I don’t know that information until I know what the breakdown is,” Ross explained.

That impact will determine if the project is viable, and both Ross and Mitchell felt the project would be worthwhile at whatever funding mixture is determined.

“We could have had a few more meetings with the town of Ocean City, but I don’t know how many meetings we can have to tell them we’re kind of stuck and waiting for answers as far as the money’s concerned,” Ross said.

Timing is paramount, since there are only so many days in a year to play golf and only so many days when construction is possible. Eventually, Ross said, all 18 holes of Eagle’s Landing will be affected by the construction.

“It’s not going to be what you see in Ocean Pines right now with great big holes in the ground. This is relatively small diameter piping, it’s not hitting roads or things like that and it will move relatively quickly once we get the go-ahead,” Ross said.

How quickly, however, is another matter, as Ross said if the project isn’t ready for construction by Nov. 1, it would likely have to wait another year.

“They’re not going to want to have all this construction while people are playing golf,” Ross said.

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