Friday, May 31, 2013

The $40 Million Project at Seneca Point

I am very concerned that Cecil County is about to commit to a $40 million project that is not necessary and will obligate the water sewer customers and tax payers to fund a very large bill.
On March 19th the Cecil County Council voted 3 - 2 in support of a revised Consent Order with MDE regarding the timeline that Seneca Point (NEWWTP) become ENR (Enhanced Nutrient Removal) Compliant with the State of Maryland. I (and Councilman Dunn) voted against the consent order because it was based on a timeline that assumed we would be incorporating a $40 million Membrane Bio Reactor (MBR) System into the waste water treatment plant (WWTP) to achieve the state mandated ENR Standard. But we could accomplish the same goal with a $10 million denitrification system according to our consultant, GHD - and an MDE Grant would fully fund the project.  
So the question is why would we spend $40 million to get to ENR if we can achieve it with the fully funded $10 million denitrification system? The justification seems to be in the argument that we need to plan for the future and that there is a possibility we will not be able to accommodate all of the anticipated growth past 2035. 
Why pay $40 million now when we are not anticipated to reach capacity until 2035 to 2040? Why would we pay $40 million when treatment plant upgrades are usually funded through hookup costs?   We are putting the cart before the horse in making the current users bear the costs for the MBR System which is reflected in the water sewer customer increases of 4% for 3 years in the proposed FY 2014 budget.  These increases will not cover the cost which means the rest of the tax payers will have to pay either through increased taxes or taking from fund balance.
Another factor we should keep in mind is that environmental regulations do change and we may have to upgrade to another system in the future even before we utilize the benefit of the MBR System.    
Why would we commit to an expensive system when there will probably be newer and cheaper technology to select from in the future? Just a few of the revolutionary new technologies which are significantly reducing the cost and operations of WWTPs include Biomag as well as a new product developed by Lockheed Martin, desalination graphene filters which won the Nobel Prize in 2010.
Why are we anticipating that the growth will happen on the west end of the county and not the east?  If the demand is located in the eastern area and we've already invested a substantial amount of our financial resources into Seneca Point, it would limit our ability to be responsive. 
I propose that we go through with the denitrification system for now because it’s already been funded and approved by MDE and in the distant future when we get closer to our WWTP capacity, conduct pilot tests and comparison studies to base our ultimate selection on. 
With limited resources, investments should be strategic.  Our priority should be to close up the infrastructure gap on the growth corridor which would attract new businesses and in turn helps fund upgrades to our treatment plants.  How many times do we need to make the same mistakes?

Monday, May 13, 2013

Another Fact Sheet on Seneca Point Waste Water Treatment Plant

1.  DPW Director Flanigan originally presented to the Cecil County Commissioners that the Seneca Point upgrade would be a $60 million project and the Commissioners needed to determine how this project would be funded.  Director Flanigan later agreed that the Seneca Point project could be divided into 3 phases and the first phase would cost $40 million.

2.  Seneca Point Treatment Plant is required by MDE (Maryland Department of the Environment) to go to ENR (Enhanced Nutrient Removal) by December 31, 2016.  *MDE has provided additional time in the past when the County  shows it is making a good faith effort in completing a project.

3.  The Flush Fund Grant fully covers Seneca Point’s upgrade to ENR but does not cover expansion of capacity. Director Flanigan incorporated into the project the expansion of capacity for the treatment plant and wanted to use the flush fund grant towards the expansion project.    

4.  MDE tasked Cecil County Government to hire a consultant to determine the least inexpensive system for Seneca Point to achieve ENR.

5.  GHD, Cecil County’s consultant, identified Denitrification as the cheapest method at a cost of $9.2 million.  *Denitrification could be incorporated by the deadline.

6.  MDE approved GHD’s proposal and included additional funding for a total of $10.9 million.

7.  The Seneca Point project cost of $40 million minus the flush fund grant ($10.9 million) for expansion would fall on the rate payers, new users and the taxpayers.  Because it’s only the first phase, the capacity would remain the same (2 mgd) but would allow for expansion to 4.5 mgd for an additional cost of $18 million.

8.  Seneca Point can be expanded using the Denitrification System up to 7.0 mgd on the current footprint.  However, when Cecil County does need to expand the treatment plant to that capacity, other factors will be need to be considered such as new environvental regulations and new treatment technologies available.
9.  The correspondence between MDE and Cecil County Government relaying this information was never provided to the Cecil County Commissioners.  Treasurer, Bill Feehley, confirmed my concern that the Seneca Point project was much larger than required and mentioned the GHD and MDE correspondence.  He received a copy of the correspondence because the Treasurer collected the Flush Fund Tax and would be responsible for cutting the check to the County for the funding.

10.  Growth in the Seneca Point service area is not anticipated to reach the 2 mgd capacity until 2030 and 2035 so the expansion project could be delayed.  

11.  Waste water treatment plant (WWTP) technology is fast evolving and new environmental regulations mandated by State and Federal Government would make it wise to wait until we get closer to capacity to decide which treatment system would be the most cost efficient and effective.

12.  No pilot test was conducted to compare the efficiency and cost for operations on different filtration systems.   No scientific analysis was provided to back up the selection of MBR at Seneca Point. 

13.  If any investment is made in infrastructure, the priority should be on closing up the water/sewer gap in the growth corridor which would attract growth.

14.  The majority of Seneca Point’s WWTP allocations are from 2007 and therefore do not have a significant impact to the capacity available currently at the plant.

15.  Director Flanigan has claimed that the real cost for construction to go with the denitrification filter system is $21 million but the consultant and MDE has estimated in the $10 million range.

16.  Director Flanigan consistently has not provided information requests in a forthcoming manner.  For a Commissioner and now Council Member to make an informed decision, the facts should be provided.

17.  There is a claim by DPW Director that we took a vote on August 16, 2011 during the evening Commissioner Meeting :to commit to the MBR technology.  However, the audio recording of August 16, 2011 during the work session reveals that we were only committing to a $100,000 engineering cost to GE makers of the specialized ZeeWeed General Electric MBR System.  Sole procurement of a system is expensive due to lack of competition

18.  The information I gathered regarding the Seneca Point waste water treatment project was provided and or confirmed by “experts”. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Cecil County Council Meets with Congressman Harris

On April 9, 2013 Congressman Harris responded to our invitation to join us for a worksession meeting so the Council could update him on three very important Cecil County issues: Exelon Relicensing Application of the Conowingo Dam, Pearce Creek Dredge Spoil Contamination, and Drug Abuse.  The meeting was prompted by my request at a previous work session meeting.

Thank you to Al Reasin for taking the time to video record the meeting in its entirety at no cost to Cecil County taxpayers.

Meeting Part 1 starting at 17:30

Meeting Part 2

Thursday, March 28, 2013


At the March 26 Legislative Meeting, Council members Hodge, Bowlesby and McCarthy voted in favor of the Consent Order timeline which was based on the assumption County Government would be introducing the Membrane Bio Reactor (MBR) System into our current system at Seneca Point (NEWWTP).   However, given the information I have been supplied by Director Flanigan and Principal Planner, Tony DiGiacomo, I cannot support the MBR System at this time. At the time of the vote, President Hodge acknowledged DPW needed to provide the information of an analysis to justify this costly investment and that we were not obligated to use the MBR system by adopting this consent order.  Time will tell if he was sincere in pursuing the cost and process analysis.  To implement this system it will cost $40 million to get back to the same capacity we currently have -  2 mgd.  How was this project permitted to move forward?

The impetus for making this costly investment is the MDE (Maryland Department of the Environment) requirement for this plant to go from BNR (Bio Nutrient Removal) to ENR (Enhanced Nutrient Removal).  MDE only funds upgrades to ENR and not for expanding capacity.  DPW hired a consultant (GHD) to research how much it would cost for the Seneca Point to go to ENR and their estimate was $10.9 million to use a denitrification system.  This is the amount that MDE agreed to fund Cecil County and DPW Director proposed we instead use the $10.9 million as a down payment on a system that allows us to become ENR compliant but would also allow Seneca Point to increase capacity up to 10 mgd on the current foot print without having to purchase additional property. While the MBR System does allow for additional expansion, it does so at a very expensive price ($40 million) with no additional capacity for that down payment.  To expand to 4.0 mgd, the cost will be an additional $29.5 million.

What other options are available?

We can become ENR compliant with the conventional ENR Bioreactor with denitrification filter at the current design capacity of 2 mgd approved and fully funded by MDE. The $10.9 million of the Bay Restoration Grant Funding was assessed by the work of our consultant in accordance with MDE direction which researched the most inexpensive method for our plant to go to ENR.

How long before we will use the current capacity of 2 mgd?  The population growth has been reduced from previous projections according to Principal Planner, Tony DiGiacomo.  “For the year 2030, based upon WILMAPCO Traffic Analysis Zone (TAZ) projections and reduced by a coefficient of -0.0558 to take into account the latest, reduced MDP control total, I came up with the following population and household projections for the Seneca Point service area:  Pop: 18,237, and HH: 6,706.”

Assuming that the flow at Seneca Point increases from the present day 1 MGD to 2 MGD between now and 2030, this would represent a growth rate of 4.2% per year. The economy, in general, is expected to grow around 2% in the future, according to many economists.  So a growth rate of 4.2% for the population would be estimated on the high side.

Currently our system has 4,370 active sewer customers.  Averaged at 100 gpd/per person or 225 gpd/per household we should arrive at about 1 mgd current capacity.  Based on the last 18 years of growth at the North East Waste Water Treatment Plant, the projected flows for the years 2030 and 2035 would fall between 1.6 and 2.0 mgd assuming the old growth projection.  But based on the updated population projections for 2030, the flow projections, I believe, fall between 1.5 and 1.8 mgd.

Is there a cheaper, alternative science to the Membrane Bio Reactor?  One option that is currently being used in Carroll and Washington County, the Biomag System.  The cost on average is about 1/2 of the MBR.  While it was relatively new 3-4 years ago, Siemens has purchased the technology due to its promising results.  The Biomag capital costs are significantly lower than MBR and can also expand their capacity on the current footprint.

Because waste water treatment science is evolving, there very well could be a cheaper alternative than the MBR solution if we wait.  What have we lost in the meantime? Absolutely nothing.  We are not required to finance the additional $30 million (which only brings us back to 2 mgd capacity), it appears we have ample capacity up until at least 2030 to 2035, and we have kept our options open.   We may find Meadowview will require increased capacity or upgrades before Seneca Point.  Also, imagine we instead invested the $30 million into closing up the infrastructure gaps on the growth corridor to attract growth.  Wasn't that supposed to be our priority in the first place?  .

To get a more accurate count of capacity at Seneca Point, we need to know the policy for reserving space at the treatment plant.  I requested this clarification from Director Flanigan on February 4 asking if already issued sewer allocations have a 2 - year “shelf life”?  I have also asked how long in his estimation do we have before we reach 2 mgd capacity?  To date, he has not responded.  Until I have answers to these questions, I don’t feel confident in moving forward or feel it’s fair to put the burden on this system on the users, new customers and tax payers since we‘ll probably have to finance the system with a long term bond.

I would propose that we conduct a full scale pilot study to assess the viable options and then provide a cost analysis on capital costs as well as the operation and maintenance costs for each option.   It seems to me this multi million dollar decision to commit to the BMR System should have rose beyond the staff and administration.  But we still have time to gather the information to make an informed decision.

I wanted to point out that while I'm not an expert on Waste Water Treatment Plants, I was able to gather the information from the experts after investing a lot of time and research. Because I am responsible for making informed votes, the Inhouse Auditor could make my job easier and potentially save the county more money than the position would cost.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Was Robert Hodge Stealing Electric?

Below are two documents which were presented at last Tuesday's worksession (January 15, 2013) by Councilman Dunn.  These documents and allegations are so shocking that I expected The Cecil Whig to cover the story.  Instead, Councilman Hodge, McCarthy and newly appointed Councilwoman Bowlesby voted to support the appointment of Mr. Hodge as President and said the allegations were irrelevant because they occurred back in 2008.  No story was ever printed despite many people believing it is relevant.  For the audio of the discussion:
at 6 minutes and 8 seconds.  If this matters to you - or not - I'd like to hear what you have to say.    Please send me an email at with your feedback. 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

History of Charter

Did you know Cecil County holds the record for the most attempts at passing Charter?  It took six tries because many were suspicious of giving so much power to a County Executive.  But, of course, there were those that were not going to give up their quest and on the last attempt creatively marketed Charter into a bait and switch of Code Home Rule.  The Friends of Charter claimed it would be cost neutral and more efficient.  However, many are already realizing they were deceived and are having second thoughts.  How could Charter get on the ballot despite Cecil County Citizens formally voting for Code Home Rule in a straw poll vote after the taxpayers paid $12,000 for an Alternative Government Forum?  To see how Charter was "pushed" through, I've put together the History of Charter below. 

  • Four alternative government forums were hosted by Victor Tervala who wrote Alternative Forms of Government in Maryland. Paid for by Cecil County Tax Payers ($12,000 +).  (Cecil Whig, 10/25/07) 
  • Straw vote at the last forum held in Elkton Administrative Building showed that the voters chose Code Home Rule over Charter.
  • (Cecil Whig, 12/12/07) (Cecil Whig, 2/4/08)
  • Commissioners ignore voters choice and vote for Charter Government.
  • (Cecil Whig, 3/5/08)
  • Commissioners reconsider Code Home Rule after public testimony.

  • (Cecil Whig, 4/30/08)
  • Commissioners honor vote 4 to 1 to put Code Home Rule back on the Ballot.

  • (Cecil Whig, 5/21/08)
  • Public hearing held on June 5, 2008 documents citizens support for Code Home Rule again.

  • (Cecil Whig, June 6, 2008)
  • 11th hour Code Home Rule effort fails.

  • (Cecil Whig, 8/6/08)
  • Board of County Commissioners decides in closed session to pursue Charter and the first mention of a Charter Board being appointed is when the names are voted on during an evening Commissioners meeting.  (Cecil Whig, 3/6/09)  (County Commissioner Meeting Minutes 3/3/09) 
  • Charter Board schedules meetings with citizen groups to promote. Citizens raise a number of concerns: Charter is a lot more expensive than the Charter Board claims because County Executive has a staff and concerns of balance of power between Legislative and County Executive.  Harford County is a good example of how Charter Rule promotes increased spending. (Aegis 7/25/12)
  • Chairman of the Charter Committee, Joyce Bowlesby criticized for funding Charter initiative with out-of-county developer funds, $12,000. Office of Economic Development chastised for participating in the fundraiser for the Charter Campaign.

  • (Someone Noticed, September 30, 2010) (Someone Noticed, October 20, 2010) (Someone Noticed, October 27, 2010)
  • Joyce Bowlesby makes claim Charter costs less than current form of government. Many citizens attending Charter informational forums critical of claim.

  • (Cecil Whig, April 9, 2010) 
  • County Government employees used to promote Charter (Cecil Whig, 6/24/09)
  • Newly elect County Executive Tari Moore switches her party affiliation to unaffiliated.  (Cecil Whig, December 3, 2012)
  • Sunday, December 2, 2012



    This is a great opportunity for Mike, Jim and I to finally get our message out about the voting record of Commissioners Moore and Hodge. The local media - especially the Guardian and Cecil Times - have continually misrepresented the truth. The insulation these two media outlets provided along with their foot soldiers, the Cecil County Patriots (who actually support special interests over tea party principles), have provided the political cover needed by Commissioners Moore and Hodge. Congressman Andy Harris along with Senator Jacobs have also interjected themselves into local politics to support this machine. David Williams of Williams Chevrolet chairs the Cecil Business Leaders for Better Government PAC that endorsed Commissioners Hodge, Moore and Alan McCarthy. Mr. Williams started attending county commissioner meetings around the time that hearings for Rose’s Diner (to become a drug treatment facility) began. Coincidently, the Williams Family already owns the Elkton Treatment Facility. David Williams is the brother of D’ette Devine, our superintendent of public schools. The Cecil Business Pac endorsed the purchase of the Basell Building, as well as the Chamber of Commerce that named CCPS large business of the year.

    Why did I get involved in County Politics over 20 years ago, become a founding member of the 21st Century Republican Club, organize the first two tea party protests in Cecil County, campaign for an elected school board, as well as host Drug Awareness forums and workshops? Because we don’t need more politicians selling out the county. We need more concerned citizens who have the best interests of Cecil County at heart.

    Cecil County Citizens and tax payers, you should be very concerned about the future direction of your County.

    Tari Moore’s move to renounce the Republican Party in order to hijack control of the new Cecil County Council insures special interests will now effectively control both the Executive and Council side of our new Charter form of government.  Where are the checks and balances if the County Executive controls both the Legislative and Executive side of government?  

    What does this mean? You only need to review Moore’s voting record for the two years that she’s served as a County Commissioner. Most of her votes were in unison with Commissioner Robert Hodge supporting special interests, while the other three Republican Commissioners voted on principles that supported fiscal responsibility, transparency and accountability.

    - While the majority of Commissioners voted to adopt a tax rate below the constant yield for the first time in Cecil County History, Commissioners Moore and Hodge supported putting back $800,000 into the budget. You can listen to his explanation on the audio at 5:30 and on the final budget adoption audio at 22:50.

    - The majority of Commissioners voted to support increased ethics enforcement while Commissioners Moore and Hodge basically said more ethics doesn’t mean more honesty.

    - The majority of Commissioners voted to organize and challenge the State of Maryland’s mandate to adopt tier maps as well as WIP Plans by activating the Rural County Coalition and the Clean Chesapeake Coalition.  In contrast, Tari Moore sat on the MACo Executive Board, and testified in support with amendments for SB 236. Once the finalized version was drafted, she did not update nor seek feedback from the Board of County Commissioners, DPW and Planning and Zoning Directors on how the bill would impact Cecil County, thereby causing us to lose the ability to voice our concerns.

    - The majority of Commissioners supported funding capital projects in the priority funding area while Commissioners Moore and Hodge supported spending $4 million (Commissioner Hodge comments at 36:48) in areas not slated for growth that also happened to be near or adjacent to Commissioner Hodge's property.  While Commissioner Hodge recused himself on the vote, he did share his comments in support.

    - The majority of Commissioners successfully argued that a local propaganda newspaper, the Cecil Guardian, was not a newspaper of record (as noted on page 2 and 3) and therefore was not qualified to receive the hundreds of thousands of dollars from county government to print public notices while Commissioners Moore and Hodge supported giving the tax payer funded dollars to the Cecil Guardian for, in my opinion, political payback.

    - The majority of Commissioners supported a new clinic ordinance that adopted minimum standards for buffers and parking requirements, while Commissioners Hodge and Moore supported no more oversight in placement of clinics because in their view, it was not the way to do business in the county. They tried to circumvent the new ordinance by attempting to get an occupancy permit for the Drug Treatment Facility that was being proposed for Rose‘s Diner in Elkton.

    - The majority of Commissioners objected to Commissioner Hodge’s attempt (with Tari Moore’s support) to rezone a large parcel of his property from NAR to a more lucrative, developer friendly RR during a Comprehensive Rezoning. The majority of Commissioners demanded he follow the normal rezoning process for all seven of his personal comprehensive rezoning requests (which requires public notification to adjacent property owners).

    - Did Commissioner Hodge initiate the County lawsuit with the Town of North East (over out of town water and hookup rates) for personal reasons. Was it coincidence that the PSC Letter was sent 2 days after Commissioner Hodge was elected to office?  The fact remains that he went out his way to get one of the Commissioners to change his vote to pay for a 2nd expert witness and he did not recuse himself from any votes as a Commissioner regarding this lawsuit despite his property being affected and therefore, in my opinion, creating a conflict of interest. I am also concerned that the attorney hired to represent the County on this case, Larry Haislip, is also a campaign contributor to Commissioner Robert Hodge. It just seems that there is a pattern for Commissioner Hodge to use Cecil County as his personal piggy bank and Commissioner Moore has consistently voted to support him.

    - While the majority of Commissioners were fighting to break up unilateral Artesian control of our water and wastewater plants, Commissioners Moore and Hodge were fighting to preserve the original contract which would have put our County and our master plan for growth in peril because the monopoly would have been more focused on profit and building residential projects rather than implementing infrastructure in the growth corridor.

    - The majority of Commissioners objected to using fund balance
    to purchase the Basell Building
    for a School of Technology. They disputed the renovation as well as the operating costs that CCPS provided. Another reason for the objection was that it was not a true comparison of savings, as this was another School of Technology and not a Comprehensive High School. The school population has decreased since 2006, and the School Board has not presented to the Commissioners other viable options to accommodate the waiting list.

    - While the majority of Commissioners were fighting to keep our AVI decals for the Hatem Bridge and fighting the increase in tolls, Commissioner Hodge wanted to seek SHA road improvements in return for toll hikes.    He stated this at the bridge toll coordination meeting and also when he was interviewed by Reporter David Collins.  I told the reporter that the majority of Commissioners did not agree to this and the interview thankfully wasn't broadcast. The road deals were also included in Vernon Thompson's (Ec. Dev. Director at the time) speech he was planning to give at Perryville High School before the MdTA.   I also remember staying at that toll meeting close to midnight because Commissioner Hodge was the 3rd to the last speaker and I needed to make sure his testimony didn't include anything the Board hadn't already discussed.   He also sought advice from Mary Halsey, CEO of Cecil Bank, on how to fight the toll hikes. He thought it was a good idea to get a board member of the MdTA to advise us but the only problem was, she voted to increase the tolls and she's from Cecil County!

    - The majority of County Commissioners voted to request that Vernon Thompson resign as Economic Development Director of Cecil County while Commissioners Moore and Hodge fought to preserve his position.  This was even after it was revealed that Vernon Thompson tried to sabotage the funding for the Upper Shore Regional Council in direct insubordination of the Board of County Commissioners.  I shared this information with Commissioners Hodge and Moore as well as the media after information verified through DBED was shared with Commissioner Mullin and myself. 

    - The majority of Commissioners supported improving animal control in the County while Commissioners Hodge and Moore attempted to subvert the new changes to animal care and control by stonewalling with excuses of needing more time, data to research as well as even more public hearings after 3 years!  Nancy Schwerzler (previous President of the SPCA during their negative publicity) started a public blog, Cecil Times, that also provides political cover for Commissioners Hodge and Moore.

    - The Enhanced Use Lease Project by Help USA (organization founded by Andrew Cuomo) is fighting to get project based vouchers to fund their housing project at Perrypoint which would not benefit our veterans. Despite both local and county government sharing their many areas of concern, Dr. Hameline continues to provide the perception that everyone is in support. Our concern has been documented and it includes increased public services generated due to the population they are targeting with no compensation. We have requested Congressman Harris to intervene. His response is that he will intervene when it is “appropriate”. Commissioner Hodge called me personally to ask what my objection was to this project and this was after the Board of County Commissioners agreed on how to proceed.

    - Finally, the majority of Commissioners' campaign funding was primarily grass roots while the majority of Tari Moore’s and Robert Hodge’s were funded by special interest. Mr. Hodge was part of a business slate endorsed by Cecil Business Leaders for Better Government which raised over $40,000.  Their mailers included the slate of Moore, Hodge, McCarthy and Judges Cairns and Baynes.  You can also review their individual campaign reports at Maryland Campaign Finance . Who do you think they will represent when they get unilateral control of the county?