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St. Mary’s County policies require connections to central water and sewer lines if they come close enough to a property, but there is differing language in county documents about how close the lines must come.

There is also conflicting language in the county code about whether connections are required or just permitted.

A work group has been established to consolidate what is on the books.

County Commission President Jack Russell (D) asked for the work group. “It’s an issue that we need to get solved, and the sooner we can get this done, the better,” he said last week.

County Commissioner Larry Jarboe (R) has repeatedly said people who have working wells and septic systems should not have to connect to St. Mary’s County Metropolitan Commission lines.

In Charlotte Hall, “I hear, ‘I didn’t move into the town, the town center moved over me,’” Jarboe said on Nov. 2. Town centers and other designated growth areas are supposed to be served by central water and sewer systems.

Leonardtown and Lexington Park, as well as parts of Hollywood, Piney Point and Ridge are on central systems.

When Chancellor’s Run Road was expanded, existing water and sewer lines were relocated and new lines were installed. As a result, MetCom said the Chancellor’s Run Road project brought on 35 new water customers and two new sewer customers.

In one case, a resident, who did not want to be identified, had her well replaced by the Maryland State Highway Administration because the old one was too close to the road. Then MetCom installed a new water line and she had to connect to that, at a cost of $775. Her house can’t use the new well, but a rental home can.

The county’s water and sewer plans say all structures with plumbing within 200 feet of new service lines shall connect. But the subdivision ordinance requires a new development in a growth area to connect to a central water system if it is within 1,750 feet, said Phil Shire, director of the St. Mary’s County Department of Land Use and Growth Management.

The county code then states that MetCom either “may” provide connections to properties, but also states elsewhere connections “shall” be made.

“This all contributes to ambiguous and inconsistent interpretations regarding connection requirements,” Shire said.

“If we can get these ambiguities straightened out, we gotta get it in place and go for it,” Russell said. “It’s time for it.”

The work group hasn’t met yet, so there aren’t any recommendations to take to the state for the upcoming General Assembly session.

It costs a residential home $2,459 in a one-time fee to connect to a water line and $3,712 to a sewer line. The cost is more for commercial properties. Then there are MetCom’s monthly bills for water and sewer service to follow.

“This is the age-old issue,” said Jacquelyn Meiser, director of MetCom last week.

It is not up to MetCom where the water and sewer lines go or which homes within what distance are required to connect. “MetCom is happy to enforce whatever regulation is in place,” she said, but it is the responsibility of the county commissioners to determine where lines go and what the connection requirements should be.

MetCom does have the ability to grant connection waivers or deferrals.

Central water lines are preferred to hundreds of wells sunk into the underground aquifers which supply the county’s drinking water. More well punctures increase the possibility of polluting the aquifer and more wells pumping water up decreases the pressure levels within the aquifer. That makes it easier for a shallow well to go dry.

The most shallow aquifer in St. Mary’s is called Piney Point and is about 350 feet below the surface. The commonly used Aquia aquifer is between 450 to 600 feet below. MetCom is now utilizing the deeper Patapsco for new wells, which is 914 feet below the surface.

The aquifers are different than ground water, as the water is confined and protected within layers of clay.

Shire said the work group will have members of the county’s health department, the land use and growth management office and MetCom staff.