Developers planning to build more than 4,000 houses in Montgomery and Prince George's counties have been told their projects may be held up because of persistent feuding between the two counties over water and sewer matters.
"This whole thing is one big snarl," said Stephen B. Profilet, director of project planning at the bicounty Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, which cannot build water and sewer lines to the proposed developments because the feuding commissioners will not approve funding.
The latest impasse occurred at Wednesday's commission meeting on what has become the usual vote -- 3 to 3, with the Montgomery commissioners on one side and the Prince George's commissioners on the other.
The Suburban Maryland Home Builders Association reacted angrily, its spokesman, Steven Eckert, saying: "They [the WSSC commissioners] have failed to meet their statutory requirements and are handling the situation irresponsibly."
Among the projects that are likely to be held up are Golf America Corp.'s 700-house development south of Rte. 50 near New Carrollton in Prince George's. The project has been given the blessing of local officials who see it as the kind of development that can help enhance the county's image. w
In Montgomery, two big projects affected are NUS Corp.'s plan to build a new headquarters employing 600 workers on I-270 and Prudential Insurance's plan to build 362 town houses and 130 duplexes in a community called Water's Landing in Churchill.
The Water's Landing opening is scheduled for next fall, but that schedule is likely to be delayed if the two counties continue their feuding.
Delays could be costly to developer who had short-term loan commitments or who are paying high interest rates.
The WSSC commissioners should have approved their agency's construction budget by last Oct. 1. Montgomery Commissioner Jesse Maury said he had no idea how long the impasse would continue. "It could go on for 15 minutes more or for a year," he said.
"It could go on a week, a month, two months -- I don't know," said Prince George's Commissioner Johanna S. Norris. "I don't want to run up a red flag anymore than I have to."
Nonetheless, she said, "both counties will be impacted" by the construction tieup.
The heart of the controversy is Prince George's refusal to approve any construction budget that includes money for a pipeline in the county that would, in effect, give Montgomery more sewage-treatment capacity at the Blue Plains treatment plant.
Prince George's wants Montgomery to build its own plant. Montgomery says the pipeline would be cheaper because it would permit utilization of now unused capacity in Prince George's.
At Wednesday's commission meeting, Norris proposed a construction spending plan that would delete the controversial pipeline as well as three other projects, including a sewage-sludge composting site in Montgomery that Prince George's does not like because it is too close to the two counties' border.
The Norris proposal was backed by her two colleagues from Prince George's. All three Montgomery commissioners, demanding that the pipeline and other deleted projects be reinstated, said no.
"The onus is on Montgomery," said Norris. Montgomery's commissioner Maury said no, the onus is on Prince George's.
The counties have been feuding for years over the sewage issue. Prince George's, trying to improve its image, has not wanted any more sewer projects built within its borders. Montgomery, hard pressed for sewage disposal capacity, has wanted to utilize the large amount of unused capapcity that Prince George's has because projected growth did not materialize.