The woman who lost her Eastern Shore lake to septic tank pollution from a nearby town will get her day in court.
Maryland's Court of Appeals has agreed to hear the case of Lake Bonnie, a 28-acre lake that feeds into the headwaters of the Choptank River and was once the site of a popular campground in Caroline County. (See "Lake slowly died as town, despite state order; did nothing to replace failing septic systems," October 2012.)
Gail Litz's family owned the lake and the land surrounding it from the 1950s until 2010, maintaining Lake Bonnie as a popular campground for more than 50 years. But in 1995, the county health department ordered the lake closed to swimming and fishing because of high counts of fecal coliform, which the county determined was coming from failing septic systems in nearby Goldsboro. The town, which has about 100 homes and about 300 residents, had twice voted not to build a sewage treatment plant for itself, citing the immense costs.
In 1996, the Maryland Department of the Environment put the town under a consent decree. The consent order mandated that Goldsboro plan and build a sewage treatment plant or risk fines of $100 a day.
But the town never built the plant, and the state never fined them.
Litz didn't retain a lawyer or file suit until 2010, when she lost the lake and the 140-acre property surrounding it to foreclosure. She sued both the town of Goldsboro, for failing to build the plant, and the state, for not enforcing the consent order.
The town has said that it did not have the funds to build a multimillion-dollar plant for so few residents. And state officials said they could not enforce the agreement, because the people did not have the funds. Instead, the state and the town have worked together to find a solution. The county, town and state are in the planning stages of connecting Goldsboro to the treatment plant in nearby Greensboro, a project that should be complete in the next two years.
Litz lost at both lower courts because the judges ruled she had waited too long to sue. Litz's lawyer, Phil Hoon of Chestertown, argued that the pollution is an ongoing event that continues today.
The court will hear oral arguments in the case in April.