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After a four-hour debate and four votes, the Chesapeake Beach Town Council awarded a contract to begin the Enhanced Nutrient Removal upgrade and expansion of the Wastewater Treatment Plant during the monthly town council meeting Thursday night.

The $15.4 million contract was awarded to Bearing Construction Inc. and Whitman, Requardt and Associates LLP in a 4-2 vote, with council members Pat “Irish” Mahoney and Eric Reinhardt voting against its approval. The approval also included forwarding the $16.2 million bid budget to the Maryland Department of the Environment for approval and concurrence.

The ENR program is a state mandated program that upgrades wastewater treatment plants in the “six bay states,” including Maryland and Washington, D.C., to reduce nitrogen and phosphorous discharges into the Chesapeake Bay.

In June 2005, the town council approved a resolution to expand the wastewater treatment plant, which currently has a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System rating of 1.32 million gallons per day, to 1.5 million gallons per day, said town engineer Paul Woodburn. Included in the upgrade is the purchase of 900 additional taps to expand the plant.

Chesapeake Beach, Calvert County, the Town of North Beach and Anne Arundel County are all partners in and contribute to the flow to the plant. Chesapeake Beach is the lead agency of the plant, Woodburn said. Although all jurisdictions have agreed to participate in the ENR upgrade, North Beach and Calvert County have declined to participate in the expansion and Anne Arundel County has agreed to purchase 100 of the 900 taps, he said.

The first time the council rejected the contract, Reinhardt, Mahoney and council member Valerie Beaudin voted against the motion, citing issues with town growth the additional taps could cause; council members Stewart Cumbo and Bob Carpenter voted for the motion; and council member Jeff Krahling abstained, stating he did not have enough information to vote either way.

Woodburn said the MDE has sent the town a consent order mandate to begin the project immediately, with a completion date of March 2016. If the town maintained its vote against awarding the contract and moving forward with the project, the plant would not be under construction by June, and the town would be subjected to “some pretty stiff fines” and would lose its grant funding of $8 million and loan funding of $9 million.

Wastewater treatment plant superintendent John Castro said aside from losing all of the funding, if the council did not approve the contract and move forward with the project, there would likely be spills into the bay, for which the town could be fined, because his equipment was old and not functioning properly. Moving forward with the upgrade and having the additional 800 taps would allow him to make appropriate repairs and operate properly, Castro said.

“I need this design,” Castro said. “From an operational standpoint, I need to be able to have that volume to handle the storms and for maintenance purposes.”

Without the contract approval, Woodburn said, the entire process for the upgrade would start over and would likely take about a year.

Cumbo said the previous council “had issues in terms of growth.” He said the council controls growth within the town, and just because the town will acquire 800 taps does not mean “we’re going to build 600 homes tomorrow … [it means] we merely have capacity.”

“Putting an issue before the town council at the 11th hour and saying we have to do this or else is just bad business,” Mahoney said.

Mahoney said more taps “of course means growth,” and based on the last two elections he has gone through, the residents don’t want more growth.

Carpenter said the ENR upgrade and expansion has been discussed by the council for seven years, and “at any point in the discussions,” keeping the 1.32 million gallon per day rating could have been brought up but wasn’t.

“We’ve known for years that this day would come,” Carpenter said. “… If the 1.32 [million gallon per day rating] was so important, I would have loved to have seen a resolution or a motion to revert back to that. I didn’t see that.”

Beaudin said she has been asking for the council to have a discussion about whether they would move forward with the 1.32 or 1.5 million gallon per day rating but it never happened.

“Do I support ENR? Yes, I do. Do I support the addition of 900 taps? No, I don’t,” Beaudin said. “… Just because all of the sudden we’re at the 11th hour doesn’t mean that I’m going support, personally, the capacity increase.”

“The number of amendments that you and others made to the comprehensive plan certainly told me that you’d read every word of it. If you go back and look, 1.5 [million gallons per day] is throughout the comprehensive plan. To say that we weren’t given that option — we were given that option in January 2011 when the comprehensive plan was adopted,” Carpenter said to Beaudin.

Cumbo said it would be “absolutely negligent” for the council to vote against the contract because it would cost the taxpayers “millions of dollars in losses.”

After the contract was voted down, Mahoney made a motion to begin the bid process for an ENR upgrade with a MPDES rating of 1.32 million gallons per day.

“I’m trying to understand the wisdom of councilman Mahoney’s motion,” Cumbo said. “… What you’re doing here by changing the game is that you’re going to cost these taxpayers over $9 million as a result of your actions tonight. … All this is because of your fear of growth in town. We’re going to push this limit merely to stop … expansion in town. We’re not even discussing expansion.”

Beaudin said her concern “clearly is growth.” She suggested creating “something legal” to stop the taps from being used for residential or commercial growth, or to “trickle them in” year by year.

“You’re holding this whole thing hostage over one issue: growth. … This is more than a growth issue,” Cumbo said.

Since the ENR upgrade and growth within the town are “totally separate” issues, Carpenter suggested reconsidering the approval of the original contract and revisiting the issue of growth, or use of the taps, during the monthly meeting in February. Carpenter requested Mahoney withdraw his motion to reconsider the original contract approval, which Mahoney did, but the council again voted down the original motion in a 3-2 vote, with Krahling abstaining.

Mahoney again made a motion to begin the bid process for a 1.32 gallon per day rating, which was voted down in a 3-2 vote. Beaudin and Mahoney voted in favor of the motion and Krahling abstained from voting.

Mayor Bruce Wahl then opened the meeting up to the public. Six members of the public spoke in favor of and urged the council to approve the original contract, which was approved.

kfitzpatrick@somdnews.com