Those worried about the potential for water pollution from a massive residential and commercial development planned on Maryland’s Eastern Shore will get another chance to voice their concerns.
A Talbot County Circuit Court judge has ordered the Maryland Department of the Environment to hold another hearing and give the public another opportunity to comment on sewage discharge plans for Lakeside, a proposed community of 2,501 homes and apartments plus a shopping center, in the small town of Trappe.
The April 27 ruling by Judge Stephen Kehoe was a victory for the nonprofit group ShoreRivers, which had appealed the groundwater discharge permit the MDE had issued to Lakeside’s developer, Trappe East Holdings Business Trust. Development plans called for discharging treated wastewater by spraying it on fields of orchard grass in a corner of the 860-acre tract near the headwaters of Miles Creek, a tributary of the Choptank River.
State regulators originally granted the project a wastewater discharge permit in 2005, around the time Trappe voters approved annexing the undeveloped land into town limits. Development plans stalled after that, but the MDE tentatively approved a new permit in 2019 and finalized it in December 2020.
ShoreRivers contended that the final permit was different in key respects from the version MDE asked the public to comment on in 2019. The final permit was based on a nutrient management plan that spells out the terms and limitations of the treated wastewater spraying — but that plan was submitted after the public comment period had ended, and the MDE refused ShoreRivers’ requests to reopen the case.
“The nutrient management plan is a core component of the permit,” said Matt Pluta, the Choptank Riverkeeper. “Whether or not the details in [the plan] are adequate in protecting water quality warranted a review from the public.”
The final permit required the developer’s proposed sewage treatment plant to use enhanced nutrient removal, significantly lowering the levels of nitrogen and phosphorus in the wastewater before spraying it on up to 88 acres of grassy fields. The developer also was directed to build a lagoon to store wastewater for up to 75 days during winter and other times of the year when it’s raining or too windy to spray.
Pluta conceded that those changes could reduce chances of degrading nearby waterways. But he and others still question whether the system would prevent pollution from getting into the creek or the Choptank, both of which are already impaired by nutrients.
MDE spokesman Jay Apperson said the state regulatory agency will comply with the court order. But he added that the MDE “has not yet determined when the public comment period will open, and we have not yet scheduled a public hearing.”
Lawyers for the developer of Lakeside and for the town of Trappe did not respond to emails seeking comment. They had filed a joint consent to ShoreRivers request that the permit be sent back to the MDE for further review.
The ruling put on hold a separate lawsuit filed by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation challenging the MDE’s approval of the Lakeside discharge permit. CBF spokesman AJ Metcalf said the environmental group would pause its litigation while new comments are taken on the permit.
“We welcome this additional opportunity for the public to weigh in on the nutrient management plan associated with this project’s discharge permit, as well as another chance to comment on the terms and conditions of the permit,” said Alan Girard, CBF’s Eastern Shore director.