Maryland Environmental Service (MES) staffers will remain at Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant through April 30, per a new agreement.
The state’s environmental service will remain on-site through spring if Baltimore City’s Board of Estimates (BOE) approves the measure at their meeting next on Jan. 25.
The state also has plans to establish a consent decree that will allow the MES to regulate sites at both Back River and Patapsco River, another wastewater plant the city operates that contributes to overwhelming pollution in waterways.
If the decree is passed, the agreement could extend MES’s presence past April 30 at Back River’s plant.
The new agreement extending MES’s stay at Back River through April comes after a yearlong conflict between the city-owned Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant and the Maryland Environmental Service that saw the state take over operational control of the plant from the verge of “catastrophic failure.”
“The Maryland Department of the Environment and Baltimore City leadership have reached an agreement on a second amendment to the consent order relating to the Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant and the Maryland Environmental Service’s presence there,” MDE spokesperson Jay Apperson said.
Apperson said his department and Baltimore City are in continued discussions to reach a settlement to resolve MDE’s suit against the city to stop unauthorized discharges of pollution from the Back River and Patapsco sewage treatment plants.
The subject of whether state oversight will continue at Back River’s plant has been contentious since the initial agreement expired at the end of December 2022.
Since then, elected officials have speculated on the plant’s future with many community members expressing disdain for the city’s Department of Public Works (DPW) retaining complete control of Back River’s plant.
Del. Ric Metzgar has remained a vocal opposer to the state’s environmental service relinquishing its oversight to Baltimore City.
According to a statement from Metzgar, the state of Maryland and Baltimore City were scheduled to convene on Jan. 18 concerning further details and the status of the plant to ensure the plant is in compliance with effluent levels within permitted levels and all the appropriate state regulations.
Metzgar added that he “has been actively involved with meeting and working with the Back River Wastewater Treatment Facility officials, to bring the plant into compliance and resolve the discharge issue.”
Meanwhile, advocacy groups like the Back River Restoration Committee (BRRC) are elated to see state officials remain on site, while its members also voiced their disappointment of MES not having a permanent presence at the sewage treatment plant.
“We are happy that they are there, while it may not be in the capacity in which we hoped for, at least we still have those eyes on the ground helping us to remain aware of what is happening at the plant,” BRRC project manager Desiree Greaver said.
Through MES’s oversight, there has been documented ongoing progress at Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant.
In a recent January progress report, the city’s DPW said one of the plant’s primary settling tanks were fully restored in December 2022, where two more settling tanks will return to service by next month.
Meanwhile, workers at the treatment plant have started a training program that will run through June as participants will have two days a week of classroom instruction and three days of follow-through at one of the plants to gain field experience.
The new agreement between the state and Baltimore City was announced after the city’s DPW director, Jason Mitchell, submitted a resignation from his position amid pressure from the city council. According a news release, Mitchell’s resignation will go into effect in April.