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Ocean City

Treated wastewater to irrigate golf course

(June 27, 2014) Forget the fancy clubs and expensive balls – the best way to improve your golf game now is to flush more.

Under an agreement signed this week between the Town of Ocean City and Worcester County, treated wastewater from the county’s new sewer plant at Mystic Harbor will be used to water the fairways and greens at Eagle’s Landing, the city-owned golf course.

City leaders stressed this week that the town was not, in fact, getting the brown end of the stick out of the unusual symbiosis.

In exchange for 40 years of easement rights to pipe wastewater under and onto Eagle’s Landing, the county will be footing the bill to build the new, state-of-the-art irrigation system needed to do so. Worcester will also pay for water and sewer hook-ups at other nearby city facilities, at a total package cost of over $2 million.

“I’m looking forward to the project,” said city Public Works Director Hal Adkins. “I do think it’s one of the best things that have recently been worked out between the town and the county.”

The irrigation system alone is worth $1.2 million, Adkins explained, and will provide total, “wall-to-wall” coverage of the course rather than just running down the middle of fairway like the current system.

That system has not seen a major overhaul since Eagle’s Landing was built in 1991, Adkins noted, and golf course staff have been “band-aiding” the plumbing along for some years.

“It’s roughly $1.2 million in value at the expense of the Mystic Harbor sewer district, and not the Mayor and City Council of Ocean City,” Adkins said.

Additionally, the city will get a one-time cash payment of $185,000 for spraying rights – i.e., use of the 800 sprinkler heads slated to be installed. The county will also pay for design services and ancillary costs such as road replacements.

Further, and most critically, the county will be connecting all of the city buildings at Eagle’s Landing and the municipal airport to county sewer and water services. These facilities have been operating on wells and septic tanks for the last two decades, including the building the city leases to the Worcester County Humane Society.

“We have a failing septic system at the animal shelter and we’ve been pumping that out for years now in anticipation of getting sewer,” Mayor Rick Meehan noted. “That alone saves us $35,000 a year.”

Normally, the agency in charge of a sewer and water system will charge developers for the increased load and infrastructure expansion needed for new service areas. However, the county will be waiving the $266,784 fee for the 32 EDU (equivalent dwelling unit) capacity of the town facilities, as well as $245,760 in future monthly EDU charges over the next 40 years.

By using treated effluent as irrigation water, the county will nearly eliminate the need for the current injection wells at Mystic Harbor, which are costly to operate and maintain and have significant environmental issues associated with them.

Only in times of peak use, when the holding ponds at Eagle’s Landing are full, would effluent be diverted to the injection wells where it would be forced back underground. Currently, all wastewater from the plant is dispersed in this manner.

Putting such a concentration of treated effluent, which is often high in certain salts and nutrients, directly into underground water sources can have an adverse impact on water quality and the marine ecosystem.

“This is an issue that’s been on our radar for a long time, with what was really a failed injection well system at Mystic Harbor,” said Maryland Coastal Bays Executive Director Dave Wilson. “We have seen a decline in water quality in the Sinepuxent due to injection wells.”

Meehan said the completion of the agreement – nearly five years after a spray irrigation deal had initially been discussed – represented “brighter days” for the county-city dynamic, which is often strained over funding issues.

“Over the years our ability to partner with the county has been limited,” Meehan said. “I think this is a tremendous accomplishment. I think it shows the Mayor and City Council and the County Commissioners are making progress in working together.”

Although not officially linked to the wastewater deal, the city and county are also expected to reach an agreement in the coming weeks that will transfer the deed to the public park between 3rd and 4th Streets in Ocean City from the county to the town.

Without rights to the space, the city would not be able to borrow the funds needed for the improvement project planned for the site, which includes the expansion of the Ocean Bowl Skate Park.

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