Federal Judge Upholds Baltimore City Sewer Consent Decree

A Bay Journal article (2017-10-14) reported that the U.S. District Court has upheld a Baltimore City agreement that gives the City until 2030 to address its sewage overflow and backup problems.  According to the article, Judge J. Frederick Motz approved a new consent decree and rejected arguments from the environmental group Blue Water Baltimore that the agreement should be further strengthened. The new agreement is a modification of a 2002 agreement between the City and federal and state regulators that set a January 2016 deadline to address the problems. The article noted that Baltimore City has spent nearly $1 billion to repair its sewage infrastructure but was unable to meet the 2016 goals.

 

The revised agreement requires the City to fund a series of upgrade projects to reduce overflows by 80 percent after four years, with further improvements continuing until 2030. The estimated cost of the work is $1.6 billion, with most of that cost falling on the City. From the article:

Noting the failure of previous repairs to end overflows, [Blue Water Baltimore] wanted an additional provision added that would have required that the city to adjust its repair plans and do more if stream and harbor monitoring doesn’t show sufficient water-quality improvements.

Lawyers representing federal and city officials urged the judge to disregard the environmental group’s complaint, saying that the sewer repairs alone cannot be expected to make Baltimore’s water safe. Other sources of contamination that impact waterways, including those caused by illegal connections of sewer lines to storm drains, are to be dealt with separately in the city’s stormwater permits, they said.

Angela Haren, Blue Water’s advocacy director and the Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper, said the group is encouraged that the Maryland Department of the Environment and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency both agree that “all useful data,” including water-quality monitoring, should be considered when determining whether the city’s sewer repairs have succeeded.

Useful Links

Blue Water Baltimore Website

Prior Conduit Street Coverage of Baltimore City Sewer Consent Decree

Charles Not Taking Light Rail Cuts Lightly

The Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) will have its annual meeting on proposed transportation priorities with Charles County on Tuesday, October 24 at the Charles County Government Building in La Plata – and some hope to convince MDOT leadership to reconsider disinvestment in constructing a Southern Maryland light rail.

According to MDOT’s proposed CTP through fiscal 2023, MDOT plans to suspend work on project, retaining $9 million and relinquishing the opportunity for federal funding for planning the project at this time.

The Maryland Transit Administration issued the Southern Maryland Rapid Transit (SMRT) Study last May. The report summarizes options for bus and light rail along a 19-mile corridor that would parallel Route 5 and U.S. 301 from the Branch Avenue Metro station in Prince George’s to Waldorf-White Plains in Charles. The study – the fifth for this corridor in about thirty years – found that overall costs for a bus system would likely be $500 million less than for rail, but the annual operating costs of light rail would be lower by approximately $10 million. Significantly, it found that light rail service could be more easily expanded than bus to meet demand.

Gary V. Hodge, a consultant and former Charles county commissioner, continues to advocate fiercely for the light rail. From Maryland Independent:

Hodge explained that the SMRT study revealed that a bus rapid transit system would be at capacity the moment it launched, and could not be expanded.

“This puts the state administrators on the horns of a dilemma,” Hodge said. “We would spend a billion dollars to develop a [bus] system that will be obsolete the moment it launches.”

Hodge said that the light rail option has the support of every elected official in Southern Maryland.

The Charles County Board of Commissioners have submitted a letter to Transportation Secretary Rahn requesting that he reconsider the six-year funding suspension as well as his preference for bus over rail. From the letter:

Our citizens deserve the same quality of transit service that other regions of Maryland have enjoyed for decades.

Hodge hopes that members of the public will attend the annual meeting with MDOT. He said:

We’ve worked the bureaucracy. We’ve worked the planning process. We’ve lined up all the elected officials top to bottom. But to bring this home, the chief policymakers at the state level have to see the public demanding action from them.

Queen Anne’s Making Progress On SKI Sewer Project

Failing septic systems can cause hydraulic fractures and water contamination. In order to address this issue on South Kent Island (SKI) in Queen Anne’s County, sewer lines are being extended to replace aging septic systems. The $34 million project to connect 1,518 existing homes and eight commercial properties to Queen Anne’s County’s public sewer system. The project will be implemented in four phases over a 10-year period.

The County’s initiative to provide public sewer will overcome the site limitations of the region by segregating the sewage effluent from the high groundwater. The plan will also provide superior treatment of the effluent at the existing Kent Narrows / Stevensville / Grasonville (KNSG) wastewater treatment plant by eliminating pathogens as well as reducing nitrogen loads.

The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) estimates that 30,400 pounds per year of nitrogen are currently being discharged into the Chesapeake Bay from the SKI service area. After connection to the KN/S/G wastewater treatment, MDE estimates that 13,100 pounds per year of nitrogen will be discharged from the SKI service area. This is a reduction of 17,300 pounds per year of nitrogen, which far exceeds the nitrogen reduction from alternative on-site sewage disposal systems. This reduction in nitrogen loads will also help the County reach about 33 percent of its septic system goal for the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Implementation Plan.

Estimated project costs were reduced significantly through the use of the septic tank effluent pumping (STEP) system that limits transmission of effluent to greywater. This technology eliminated the need for intermediate pumping stations and minimized sources for inflow and infiltration.

The Queen Anne’s County Department of Public Works on Tuesday released a September progress report.

According to the report:

STEP
Contractor installed 19 tanks for the month. That brings the total tanks installed, as of 9-30-17, to 142. That equals about 23% of the contract amount paid to date with 21% of the contract time used. The contractor will be installing tanks on Utah next week. The contractor has indicated that they will be mobilizing an additional crew to start installing tanks. They will also be working on installing electrical disconnects on some of the sites that already have tanks installed. They will be contacting the homeowners of those sites before working on the outside electrical meters. County staff has received 588 easements to date. This is about 76% of all easements required.

Community
Contractor installed about 1500 lf of pipe by the open cut method this month. They have also installed 10 clean-outs for the month and connected several drill shots to open-cut pipes. This equates to about 67% of the contract paid out with 41% of the contract time used. Contractor will finish installing pipe in phase “C” and move to phase “B” to finish connection there.

Transmission
Contractor installed about 1050 lf of pipe by the open cut method this month. That makes about 76% of the contract paid out with 41% of the contract time used. This pipe is filling in some areas that were skipped over due to the extremely wet conditions at the time they were first there. It is also connecting some drill shots together. Contractor will continue filling in these gaps heading south along RT 8 from Baltimore.

Useful Links

Previous Conduit Street Coverage: BPW Approves Long-Standing Kent Island Sewer Project

Previous Conduit Street Coverage: Tackling Complex Public Works Projects at #MACoCon

Learn Everything Autonomous Vehicles, Get P.E. Credits

Engineers hungry for P.E. credits and the latest on Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CAVs) and can sate their hunger efficiently at the Young Professionals of Transportation Baltimore’s Connected and Autonomous Vehicles Panel.

The panel features Jill Sorensen, Executive Director of Bevi; David Woessner, General Manager at Local Motors; Joey Sagal, Director at CHART and ITS for the State Highway Administration; and Kenneth R. (K.R.) Marshall, Vice President & Northeast Regional Manager of ITS and Transportation Technology at WSP.

 

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The event takes place on Tuesday, October 24th from 7pm to 8:30pm at the University of Baltimore’s John and Frances Angelos Law School, room 202. Click here to register.

Queen Anne’s Joins Baltimore Metropolitan Council

Queen Anne’s County this week became the first new jurisdiction to join the Baltimore Metropolitan Council (BMC) since the organization’s inception in 1992. The BMC acts as the regional planning agency for metropolitan Baltimore.

The Council is composed of nine members. One member each is appointed by the Mayor of Baltimore, the County Executives of Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Harford and Howard counties, and the County Commissioners of Carroll and Queen Anne’s counties.

According to a press release:

While BMC’s Board of Directors has expanded in recent years to include members of the Maryland General Assembly and other state-appointed representatives, adding Queen Anne’s County is a historic move. It is the first new jurisdiction to join the membership in BMC’s and its predecessor organizations’ decades-long history, reflecting the growing number of families that cross the Chesapeake Bay Bridge to learn, work and play in the Baltimore region.

“Queen Anne’s County sees joining the BMC as an asset, as more of our residents traverse the Bay Bridge for work and essential services,” said Queen Anne’s County Commissioner James J. Moran, who will serve as the jurisdiction’s representative to the BMC Board of Directors. “Together we can work toward the betterment of Queen Anne’s County and the Baltimore region through the coordination of initiatives from transportation investment to new cooperative purchasing opportunities.”

Through the Baltimore Regional Transportation Board (BRTB), BMC supports state and local government in transportation planning efforts in what is known as the “Urbanized Area.” Based upon population trends in the greater Baltimore region, the U.S. Census Bureau expanded the Baltimore Urbanized Area to include the Kent Island area of Queen Anne’s County. As a result, in 2015, Queen Anne’s County became a non-voting member of the BRTB for purposes of coordinating federal transportation investment in the region. In 2016, Queen Anne’s County expressed interest in becoming members of the BMC.

In November 2016, the BMC Board of Directors voted to extend an invitation for membership to Queen Anne’s County. The Maryland General Assembly passed SB212/HB173 and Gov. Larry Hogan signed the legislation into law. Soon after, the BMC’s Board of Directors formally amended its by-laws to add Queen Anne’s County.

Read the full press release for more information.

MDOT Restructures Procurement Upon Discovering Poor Contracting Practices

The Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) Secretary’s Office is taking over procurement for the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA), reports The Daily Record. The move comes months after MDOT Secretary Pete Rahn replaced former MTA Administrator Paul Comfort after concerns about the agency’s procurement of office furniture surfaced.

MDOT indicates that about $15 million has been paid to as many as 31 vendors without proper contract authority – including $5 million to seven vendors without any contracts at all.

In addition to centralizing MTA’s procurement within MDOT, the department also plans to hire an inventory control officer who will report to MDOT’s chief procurement officer, install new software to track contracts and payments and provide additional training to MTA employees.

The Daily Record quotes Lt. Governor Boyd Rutherford’s comments to MDOT Deputy Secretary Jim Ports at today’s Board of Public Works meeting:

It’s sloppiness. This stuff is in the bowels of the organization and it takes time from the leadership, I know. I can fuss at you and fuss at the secretary but it means you’ve got to tell your people to burrow down into the bowels, the basement of your organization, and let them know. I truthfully don’t think it’s corruption. I think it’s sloppiness. I think it’s lack of education and I think it’s not looking out for the taxpayers’ dollars. The people who are doing these things don’t realize they are working with taxpayer dollars.

Carroll Bureau of Roads Hires New Chief

The Carroll County Department of Public Works announced the promotion of Mr. Gregory W. Lotz to Chief of the Bureau of Roads. Lotz assumed his new role as Bureau Chief on September 28, 2017.

According to a press release,

Mr. Lotz, employed with Carroll County since September 2016 as the Utilities Engineer, planned, designed, and coordinated the

Gregory W. Lotz (Photo Courtesy: Carroll County)

construction and modification of infrastructure for water and sewer facilities and managed the Bureau’s asset and work order management system.

Mr. Lotz earned his Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering (ABET) from Yale University. He has over 12 years of engineering industry experience.  His private sector career focused mainly on commercial construction, project management, facilities management and real estate development.

Mr. Jeffrey Castonguay, Director of Public Works for Carroll County, said, “I am pleased to welcome Mr. Lotz to our management team.  We are excited for the implementation of his leadership philosophies within the largest bureau in the Department. His extensive experience and expertise will be an asset to the Bureau of Roads.”

Read the full press release for more information.

MACo 2018 Initiatives: Infrastructure, Schools, Sunshine, and 9-1-1

Each year MACo adopts a slate of top legislative initiatives, typically representing the wide swath of services counties deliver to Maryland residents. 2018 is no exception, as the MACo initiatives cover education, public safety, public works, and citizen access issues.

Below is the set of top issues for the year ahead, adopted by the Legislative Committee on September 27:

Local Infrastructure Fast Track for Maryland (LIFT4MD)

Investing in infrastructure – a call addressed to every level of government – improves safety, economic development, and quality of life. Nonetheless, funding for local transportation assets, water delivery systems, public safety centers and more all lack predictable centralized funding commitments.

MACo calls on state leaders to take action in 2018 to:

– Approve meaningful new FY 2019 funding for local transportation infrastructure – building on last year’s gains
– Restore the historic 30% local share of transportation revenues – phasing back to the tried-and-true formula in place for decades
– Inventory the condition of local infrastructure across the state, using existing resources – assessing the needs and revenue sources targeted for each area
– Prioritize additional funding for local infrastructure, should the State receive extra infrastructure support from the Federal government

Strong and Smart State Funding for School Construction

The State’s commitment to school construction funding needs to remain strong and smart – to best serve the modern needs of our schoolchildren, educators, and communities. State funding needs to recognize modern cost factors as we achieve new environmental and energy standards, satisfy heightened needs for technology, ensure student safety, fulfill community resource needs, and mesh with evolving teaching methods.

County governments share responsibility for financing K-12 school construction with the State, whose funding depends on statutory formulas and regulations. MACo advocates efforts to promote the smartest and most effective funding for modern schools, and urges State policymakers to retain the State’s strong commitment to this top funding priority. In addition, MACo supports reasonable school construction improvements including alternative financing, public-private partnerships, and innovative models of school construction and design.

Align Public Access Laws with Modern Technologies

Maryland’s Public Information Act creates a balanced framework for guaranteeing public access to open information, while protecting sensitive and private material. The rapid ascension of new technologies has strained the implementation and effect of these laws – potentially chilling their otherwise beneficial use. Maryland should clarify and reframe its Public Information Act to better accommodate citizen electronic engagement, personal surveillance footage from first responders and other county officials, and the release of sensitive personal information.

Advancing Maryland Next-Generation 9-1-1 Systems

Maryland citizens demand and expect 9-1-1 emergency service to be reliable and efficient. Next-generation technology is required to keep up with this increasingly complex public safety function – improving wireless caller location, accommodating incoming text/video, and managing crisis-driven call overflows. Maryland must accelerate its move toward Next Generation 9-1-1, deliver these essential services equitably across the state, and assure effective coordination with communications providers. MACo urges a concerted statewide effort to guide this critical transition, harnessing the expertise and needs of front-line county managers.

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At MACo’s Winter Conference, December 6-8, we will again hold a closing session on “Paths to Success in 2018” detailing means for county officials to get engaged in the fight for each of these top issues. Register today for the conference!

Counties’ Leased Vehicles Tax Exempt Beginning Oct. 1

A number of laws passed last session come into effect on October 1. One such law is a Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) bill, Senate Bill 34, which in part exempts vehicles leased by counties from the state excise tax.

Under existing law today, counties do not pay excise tax on vehicles they own – but the law does not explicitly exempt county leased vehicles from the excise tax.  MVA currently titles vehicles leased by counties in the particular county’s name, preventing its subjection to the excise tax, according to Senate Bill 34’s fiscal note. MVA lists the lessor as a lienholder, rather than the title holder.

Because of this, the new law probably does not save any counties any money – at least not right away. The bill’s passage, however, ensures that future administrations cannot change this practice and begin subjecting leased county vehicles to the excise tax – good news for counties with leased vehicles. It also allows MVA better flexibility in how they title the vehicles, without negatively impacting counties’ bottom lines.

 

 

Annapolis Deploys Drones to Tackle Traffic Problems

For years, motorists have complained about traffic along Forest Drive, a major traffic route that serves most of Annapolis. Many of the complaints center around traffic jams resulting from accidents and road work.

Anne Arundel County Executive, Steve Schuh and Annapolis Mayor, Mike Pantelides last week announced a memorandum of understanding between the two governments to mitigate the traffic woes – and it involves drones.

The city and county will share data on land use, traffic patterns, and other transportation information to refine the county’s regional travel forecast model. The Annapolis Police Department will also deploy drones to investigate traffic accidents, which officials believe will streamline investigations while keeping traffic moving.

According to CBS Baltimore,

With gridlock as a result of accidents and roadwork, the Annapolis Police Department is turning to drones to better asses accidents and take on most of the work.

“It’s going to allow us to re-deploy our resource. Instead of having three or four officers out there directing traffic, blocking lanes,” says Chief Baker. The drones will be used to take measurements, gather evidence and investigate damages, which is work that officers are currently doing out on the roadways.

“The average accident sometimes can take three hours, now it can be done as quick as an hour so, really looking forward to this,” says Mayor Pantelides.

Legislation enacted in 2015 made Maryland one of only three states to grant the state government exclusive power to regulate drone usage, preempting municipalities and counties from enacting their own ordinances. MACo opposed this legislation as a preemption of county authority and was able to secure an amendment to assess the need for new laws or local tools after three years of industry maturation.

MACo, along with the Maryland State Police, are among the stakeholders charged with evaluating any safety or security problems arising from drone use as the industry expands in the years ahead. The stakeholder group will report its findings to the governor in 2018.

Useful Links

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Previous Conduit Street Coverage: Appeals Court Strikes Down Drone Regulation Law

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Previous Conduit Street Coverage: General Assembly Passes Drone Bill With Study Amendment

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