Town Not Ready for Agricopia

ICON (Involved Citizens of the Neighborhoods) was formed three months ago in response to concerns about the overdevelopment of our town. The group was formed following the preliminary plat approval of the subdivision known as Agricopia Farms. . . . We asked the town to reconsider the preliminary plat because of the current infrastructure issues below. Our attempts to bring this to the town's attention have been to no avail.

ICON has researched the following issues extensively: traffic (8,000 car/day increase on Route 6 from 1991 to 1997); highway safety (Route 488 and Radio Station Road lead to the schools); education (schools are at or above capacity); law enforcement (La Plata is already four officers below the recommended level); property values (42 percent of homes for sale in La Plata are listed for less than $100,000); increased need for emergency medical and fire volunteers; and waste water treatment plant (extensive capacity and operational problems).

. . . It is the condition and capability of the waste water treatment plant (WWTP) that has ICON most concerned at this time. ICON has collected local, state and EPA documents that validate our concerns about the WWTP, including its numerous violations.

Many La Plata residents have notified ICON about various complaints related to the plant. . . .

To investigate these complaints, ICON toured the La Plata treatment plant. Joe Ward, the plant engineer who has worked there for 20 years, gave us the tour. We were shocked and horrified at the plant's condition. . . . Its two 500,000-gallon tanks were installed over 20 years ago. These tanks today are rusted, cracked and in very bad condition. . . . The town is considering an upgrade to the system in 2001.

The current capacity is 1 million gallons/day. La Plata's average daily flow is 800,000 gallons on a dry day and up to 1,850,000 gallons on a rainy day. . . . The upgrade planned for 2001 will allow a total capacity of approximately 1,375,000 gallons/day. . . . This upgrade does not even allow for our total average daily flow today, much less further development.

On a rainy day when the flow is high, polymer is needed to separate the sludge from the water at a quicker speed to clear the tanks rapidly. On Feb. 22, 1999, and again on Feb. 28, 1999, this was not effective and sludge spilled over into a creek in a Port Tobacco resident's backyard. . . . The manager at the WWTP estimated in documents sent to the Maryland Department of the Environment that on these dates an estimated 18,720 gallons of sludge and another 72,900 gallons, respectively, dumped into the Port Tobacco creek. . . .

The current proposed development for the town of La Plata is as follows: Agricopia Farms (676 dwelling units), Jamestown (100 units), Heritage Green (3,170 units) and Old Stage Coach Crossing (400 to 600 units). These developments could total 4,346 to 4,546 dwelling units and subsequently, a probable population increase of 12,000 to 13,000 new residents. A population equivalency for Agricopia Farms would add approximately 200,000 to 500,000 gallons a day to the plant's flow rate. . . .

In 1989, the town of La Plata spent up to $1 million on engineer's fees and a piece of property on Catalpa Drive that subsequently was never used for a new treatment plant. We are concerned that money will be spent recklessly on upgrades resulting in a plant that is not in the best long-term interest of the town. We are also concerned that the town will see the need for a new plant soon after the upgrade is completed and the money will have been spent.

ICON's attempts to bring this to the town's attention have been to no avail. Our concerns have fallen on deaf ears. In a recent letter from Mayor [William] Eckman and the Town Council, he said "we do have some fundamental differences of opinion" and "current is current and a community would be most blessed to have all infrastructure in place." He also refers to "the confrontational and antagonistic attitude" of the community for expressing their views.

ICON's position is to stop all future preliminary and final plat approvals in the town of La Plata until all these public health, safety and welfare issues have been taken seriously and resolved, most critically the town's deplorably inadequate waste water treatment plant.

JEANNE ZITO

President of ICON

DAVID CUSHEN

Vice-President of ICON

La Plata

La Plata Mayor Is Listening

This letter is in response to the question asked by ICON in a recent letter, "Why is La Plata ignoring citizens?" [Extra, April 11 and 25] The answer is: "It is not." As the mayor, I have spent untold hours listening to the concerns of ICON as well as the rest of the citizens of the town, both in public meetings and individually, over the last 16 years, especially during the last few months. People have a lot of different concerns, and on every issue there is more than one opinion. The mayor and council have to balance these concerns and make the decision that will be best for the town as a whole.

ICON's letter referred to overdevelopment in the Town of La Plata. At the present time, approximately 2,500 of the 5,500 acres within the town limits are undeveloped. In addition to the underdeveloped land, more than 1,000 acres of the built-up portion of town is occupied by schools, churches and other public type buildings. Over the past five years, the county issued over 6,000 residential building permits compared to the 259 issued by the town. I don't believe that development in the town is the primary cause of most of the problems cited by ICON.

On the issue of traffic, the traffic study recently completed on Charles Street by the State Highway Administration showed that out of four intersections studied during the morning and afternoon rush hours, Route 6 (Washington Avenue) had a C level of service, the generally accepted urban design standard, during the afternoon. All other intersections showed an A or B level based on a scale of A to F, with A being the best. This information bears more weight with the mayor and the council, as well as the Maryland Department of Transportation, than the opinions of ICON. This is important since the state issues access permits to state highways and the county exerts the same controls on county roads. The town only controls access to town streets.

There have been some problems with the town's waste water treatment plant. As with any mechanical device, there have been occasional failures over the years, but these have all been promptly reported to MDE [Maryland Department of the Environment] and dealt with in a timely manner. There also have been some reports that were not received on time, and other minor discrepancies that will be dealt with in the upgrade of the plant. With regard to the two violations earlier this year, the consulting engineers employed by the town have assured us that the town's plant is capable of treating the amount of sewage it normally receives and meets all requirements of its permit. They also disagree with some of the assertions made by the MDE inspector regarding the February incidents, and we are in the process of dealing with these. As to the capacity of the plant, J.L. Hearn, director of water management for MDE, issued a letter to the director of the Charles County Environmental Health Agency, the agency that is responsible for determining whether adequate sewer capacity exists before a final plat can be approved, in January 1999, stating that the town of La Plata has 0.236 million gallons per day (MGD) available flow in its treatment plant. The new plant currently being designed will have a capacity of 1.5 MGD, enough to accommodate the average flow from an additional 2,600 equivalent dwelling units. This plant will be designed to handle peak flows of 50 percent more than the design capacity, well above the peak flows now being experienced. I am not sure how many waste water plants ICON has inspected in the past, but the advice of a registered engineering firm and MDE seems more influential than ICON's evaluation of our plant and opinion of its condition.

ICON seems to feel that the town should build the infrastructure that will be required to support the population when all of the vacant land is developed before any more building permits are issued. It has been the policy of the town that new development has to pay its own way and the infrastructure is built as needed, paid for by the developers. If the infrastructure is built before property is developed, the existing property owners will have to pay the bill. As an example, if the town built a 2.5 MGD waste water treatment plant, large enough to handle all of the undeveloped land presently within the town limits, each of the existing customers would be liable for approximately $5,000 of the debt and would see an increase in their annual sewer bill of about $400 for debt service for the next 20 years. To build all the roads that would be needed, instead of requiring developers to build them as is our current policy, would mean doubling the existing property tax. Over the past 10 years, the La Plata police department has been expanded from a force of three to nine sworn officers. We could add the four officers ICON suggests, even though the crime rate in La Plata may not justify it, but it would require an increase of about 20 percent in the property tax rate to pay for them.

ICON stated that 42 percent of the houses for sale in La Plata are priced below $100,000. Although I have no statistical information, I believe that the number of houses for sale in each price category generally reflects the amount of available housing in that price range. La Plata has never been a country club for the wealthy as some of the people that have recently moved in would like to make it. It has been the county seat for more than 100 years. The 1976 Comprehensive Plan stated that 52 percent of the dwelling units were owner-occupied, 44 percent rentals and 4 percent vacant. It has always been a town that was home to people of all races and differing economic strata. The people that work in the retail, fast food, government and service industries, and provide a base for the volunteers in the fire and rescue service that ICON purports to be concerned about, have always been welcome and able to afford to live in the town they serve. Most of these people do not have enough income to buy $250,000 houses, and would be hard pressed to pay the kind of taxes that would be required if La Plata is to become the type of community that ICON apparently wants it to be. One measure of this is the fact that more than 10 percent of the users are unable to pay their water bill on time and some actually have their water turned off for nonpayment.

There is a democratic way to make changes, one clearly prescribed in Maryland State Law and the Town Charter. It is designed specifically to protect the rights of property owners and all the residents. I have been elected to represent all of the 7,000 citizens of La Plata as fairly as possible. I am not willing to support major changes to existing law that would change the character of the town as it has developed over a period of 110 years, based on the desires of a relatively small, but very organized and vocal group of people that have recently moved into the town. The consultants that have been hired to oversee the town's upcoming plan have been instructed to see that the visioning team consists of a broad representation of the different neighborhoods, businesses and others that have a stake in the town. Once a plan for the town is adopted, based on the vision of the majority of its citizens, I assure you that I will not ignore it.

WILLIAM F. ECKMAN

Mayor of La Plata

`Appalled' at Graduation Prayer

I was appalled at the loud prayers at the Northern High School graduation -- a silent reflection should be silent. I expect that the students and parents who willingly and openly disobeyed our constitutional rights should be dealt with according to school guidelines. I would suggest report cards being held of those students until a public open letter of apology is written to the Jewish, agnostic, Muslim, Hindu, etc. attendees. Plus a historical fact, Kosovo was brought up during the so-called reflection speech -- Kosovo is Christians killing Muslims!

Irene Dobrzanski

Huntingtown

Disabled Also Want Recreation

Look at the Calvert County Park and Recreation Summer Program Brochure. It contains many programs: sports, dance, crafts. But are they for everyone? No. Calvert County provides no sports or recreation programs for people with disabilities. The county agencies are not even assisting with the Special Olympics program anymore. Did you notice that no Calvert County Special Olympics Track and Field Day was held at Calvert High this year?

This county government has consistently shown little support for the developmentally and physically disabled, but this year it has reached a new low. First, the Board of Education pulled its support out of Special Olympics by forcing a teacher to resign as program director. Without help, what is left of the little Special Olympics program will end in September, when our temporary area director must leave.

Secondly, in spite of the parents' desperate grass-roots petition and letter-writing campaign, three of our commissioners made sure this neglect continues. On Tuesday, 18 May 1999, the Calvert County Commissioners voted 3 to 2 against establishing a Therapeutic Recreation Program for People with Disabilities in the Department of Parks and Recreation. By hiring a therapeutic recreation specialist, the county could provide programs for people with all types of disabilities. This person could provide programs like the county provides for everyone else and also could coordinate with state Special Olympics officials. This is not a unique program -- rather, not having such a program in Calvert County is unique. Our neighboring counties have therapeutic and adaptive recreation programs well established: Prince George's, Montgomery, Charles, Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Fairfax, and Loudoun, among others around the country.

Commissioner Stinnett argued for the program, saying "this is a population we are not serving," and Commissioner Parran voted with her. But apparently, the parents' pleas did not influence Commissioners Kelley, Hale and Buehler. With no county sports programs when Special Olympics leaves the county in September, a very important part of my young son's life goes too. I still cannot believe this. How can a whole segment of our community be ignored?

DIANE SHAW

Huntingtown

Can't Afford to Sell Property

On Sunday, April 25, there was a letter from Albert P. Stankovich, Port Tobacco, concerning "A Broken Military Contract." I have much to add to this.

My husband served in World War II and returned safely to serve our country for a little over 20 years. After receiving an honorable discharge as Chief Warrant Officer II and other awards he had many health problems. Most of the health problems were taken care of by the military hospitals in the Washington area.

However, when he had his heart attack and kidney failure -- there was no room in a military hospital -- and he had to be put in a civilian hospital for treatment. They were great. They took care of his heart and kidney problem and saved his life. He was in this civilian hospital for several weeks before he could be admitted to a military hospital. By that time, our savings toward our retirement years were gone.

Remember, according to his benefits; he and his dependents were guaranteed free medical care for the rest of his life. Not so! Next, the social worker for the military hospital informed us that he would have to go to a civilian clinic for his continued kidney dialysis, which he had to have for as long as he lived. We finally got insurance coverage with a civilian insurance company but it cost us approximately $3,000 a month for the first three years. Then he was covered. He died three years later.

Now we come to my problem. I still go to a military clinic for my health problems, but feel very insecure because there are always questions of how long Medicare patients will be accepted. I have worked since I was 17 years old. (Presently, I'm in my seventies and work as a substitute teacher.)

My present complaint is with Charles County. My parents left me acreage that I could sell if my husband and/or I needed the money. The road to our property is of gravel and I was told that before I can divide my property into three-acre lots (required in this area) I must put in a paved road according to county specifications which would cost me $400,000. This amount is more than I could get for the entire property. Our own county roads are not built to the county's specifications.

When I asked Sen. [Thomas McLain] Middleton [(D-Charles)] about this, I was told that the county doesn't have the money. Then, why should I be expected to provide a paved road with shoulders, etc. when the county doesn't follow through on its own rules? Why should I, a struggling good citizen, be required to do what the county can't or won't do? (I wasn't even allowed to give my grandson a three-acre lot to build a home on for his three children unless my road met county specifications.)

One county road that should have shoulders is Poplar Hill Road and another is Dr. Sam Mudd Road. Neither road has shoulders. There is a lot of traffic and will be much more, especially with some of the large subdivisions being built in the area. If you should have a flat tire or your car has a mechanical problem, etc., there is nowhere to drive off the road, out of the way of traffic. I'm quite certain that there are many roads just like those I just mentioned in Charles County.

MARTHA E. PETZOLD

ROBINSON

Waldorf