I love sources who can explain boring topics in a way that’s relatable and meaningful to readers.
I’d see and hear Joe Barrington at enough meetings in the county about sewer projects that I learned more about where your waste goes more than I wanted to know.
He shared with me a series of problems in the community with both sewers and water–something that mattered in a community that often had line breaks and clogs.
So, we did a series called Liquid Assets to cover these topics.
County deputy urges South Carroll residents to beware of local water theft
By Charles Schelle
If you see someone in Carroll County — other than a fire department — hooking a hose up to a fire hydrant, call the police.
The practice is not only illegal, but it costs taxpayers thousands of dollars, according to the county Sheriff’s Office.
“This is a serious problem in Carroll County,” said Sheriff’s Dep. Jason Ehrhart, addressing a crowd at last week’s Freedom Area Citizens’ Council meeting. “And you’re paying for it.”
Carroll County’s Bureau of Utilities is seeing a trend of contractors and other people hooking up to fire hydrants — especially in South Carroll — and stealing water, said Joe Barrington, bureau chief.
In the past year, they’ve seen about half a dozen such cases, he said.
If the county cannot recoup losses in court, the money for the stolen water is made up by subsidizing the cost through billing all the users on the water system, Barrington said.
The going rate for water in Carroll County is $5.41 per 1,000 gallons, he said.
Water can be sold by the county, legally, at-cost to contractors. But that’s only done at the Freedom Water Treatment Plant, in Eldersburg, and at the Martz Road tank, in Sykesville.
Tampering with the water and sewer system is a misdemeanor offense and carries a fine up to $500 or up to 30 days in jail, or both, according to Chapter 179-81 of the Carroll County Code.
Ehrhart said that on Jan. 21, a concerned resident’s “Spidey senses” were tingling as he noticed something wrong along the 6000-block of Crossway Court, in Eldersburg. He saw a construction truck getting water out of a fire hydrant. The concerned resident happened to be a volunteer firefighter.
The man went inside the house, took photos of the truck and called the police, he said.
As a result, John Albert Rill, of Keymar, was charged with unlawful water connection and tampering with a fire hydrant, according to court records.
Ehrhart said he wasn’t able to get to the scene at the time, but photos greatly helped in the investigation, so a summons could be served.
Jane Alloway, of Eldersburg, said she noticed a truck in her community last fall with a water tank, about to open up the hydrant.
She said the man appeared not to speak English, but by her emphatic motions he determined he should go.
“I made him leave, and he left without opening the fire hydrant,” she said.
Borders are not fluid
Nearby, in Howard County, the practice is legal — as long as there is a meter attached to the hose, Barrington said.
Sometimes contractors believe they are in Howard County when they are in the Sykesville area. He said that when told they’re in Carroll, some contractors have commented they’ve actually paid Howard County for water they don’t have, he said.
The only people authorized to get water from fire hydrants are fire departments and Carroll County staff, mainly utilities crews.
You can identify them when you see the county seal on the side of the truck, Barrington said.
Sometimes contractors will claim a meter — which measures a water allocation — they’ve purchased in Howard County is good for Carroll.
Don’t be fooled, Ehrhart said. The meters are only good for the county they’re issued in and again — getting water from a fire hydrant in Carroll is illegal no matter what’s attached to it.
“Carroll County does not grant permits to ever get water out of a hydrant,” Ehrhart said.
Not only does stealing water hurt residents, but tampering with a fire hydrant can cause a surge in the water lines if turned off too quickly. Or, water may leak because it was not closed all the way, Barrington said.
There are a few ways residents can help catch these people in the act.
The best way, Ehrhart said, is to be a nosy neighbor.
“Nosy neighborhoods don’t get picked on,” he said, because people who are stealing don’t want to get caught, so they want to be in as much of an isolated area as possible.
Ehrhart suggested that neighbors nonchalantly approach the person asking what they are doing, take a photo or video of the license plate from a distance and go back inside their house and call 911 and request a sheriff’s deputy.
The license plate shot is important, he said, because suspicious vehicles often use magnetic business signs on the side of their trucks.
“If we can’t catch them, you may have to identify them in a photograph and testify in court,” he said.
Ehrhart added it’s imperative people show up to testify because without a witness or victim, the court will likely toss it out or find the defendant not guilty.
City seeing similar cases
The City of Westminster, which has its own water system, sees the same incidents, said Jeff Glass, city Department of Public Works director.
The patterns seem to be in the spring and the fall when it’s time for lawn maintenance, he said. The city has received dirty water complaints after the hydrants aren’t properly closed, he added.
The problem is more about damaging the hydrants and the water system than the cost of the water, he said.
The city is catching water thieves and fining them, and actually catches the culprits about eight to 10 each year. Tampering with a fire hydrant is $400 for each occurrence in Westminster, according to the city’s code.
Westminster provides free recycled water at its wastewater treatment plant on 1161 Old New Windsor Road, he said, but that water is more for lawns and construction and not for pools because it’s not drinkable. Glass encourages people to call the Westminster Police Department when they spot water theft and hydrant tampering.
Carroll County heats up grease patrol to prevent lines from clogging
Bureau of Utilities have cited Greenmount Station Restaurant for discharging kitchen grease into sewer lines
By Charles Schelle
Carroll County’s Bureau of Utilities is trying to put a plug on overflowing kitchen grease lines as a means of preventing costly clogs, and has started citing businesses where grease is an issue.
On March 16, the bureau found that Greenmount Station Restaurant, Hampstead, violated the county’s public sewer usage regulations for discharging fats, oils and grease into the wastewater system, according to a citation issued by the bureau.
No fine was issued, and the restaurant hired a company to clean the lines, he said.
It was the first citation the county’s Bureau of Utilities has issued, according to Joe Barrington, bureau of utilities chief, who said the county decided to take a new approach to enforce sewage usage laws.
In the case of Greenmount, the restaurant’s staff had actually called the bureau asking the county to clean the line in the county-held right-of-way, but when utilities workers arrived, they found grease was the culprit, according to Barrington.
“I tried to explain to the folks that it’s their grease, and if we clean it up for them, basically we’re subsidizing their problem with the rest of the water and sewer clients,” he said.
“It wasn’t fair to do that,” he said.
Wayne Lockard, who owns the property, told The Eagle he was not aware of the citation. Restaurant owner Chris Richards did not return a call requesting comment by press time.
The county’s long-standing county ordinances provide provisions for prohibiting fats, grease or oils from entering the sewer and waterways, but issues can sometimes arise at restaurants.
If cited, a restaurant has within 48 hours of a notice to comply, or the Carroll County Health Department will be notified, a plug will be placed in the line to prevent any flow, and the restaurant can be shut down, according to Barrington and the county’s public sewer ordinances.
The plug is the most practical deterrent, Barrington said.
“That is probably the easier avenue to take to get an action … because we don’t want to have these things back up and have the state (Department of the Environment) come after us for an overflow,” he said.
The county could also impose daily fines, according to the ordinances.
After seeing some catastrophic incidents in 2008 and 2009 in which sewer lines broke due to clogged grease, the bureau’s staff is more attentive to grease issues, Barrington said.
“Right now, our chronic offenders will be watched,” he said.
In a 2009 series about grease dumping issues, The Eagle reported how the bureau has had problems with both restaurants clogging sewer lines with hardened grease and how some waste haulers were suspected of dumping grease down manholes just minutes after picking it up from restaurants.
No homeowners or businesses filed claims in the last year for damage by overflowing sewer lines due to grease, said Bob Williams, risk manager for Carroll County. Williams said he attributes some of that to The Eagle series for spreading the word about the county’s grease problem.
But grease is still around, and the county is more attuned to it, Barrington said.
Also, the county’s Office of Recycling has started a collection program for frying oil and kitchen grease. Residents can drop off kitchen grease and frying oils for free at the Recycling Center area of the Northern Landfill, 14800 Baltimore Blvd., Westminster.
The used oils and grease is recycled into high energy fat for animals feed and used to help make biofuels.
One thing Barrington hasn’t accomplished yet is creating a permitting process to keep track of waste haulers and their kitchen grease transport. The issue is now at the state level, where representatives are exploring it, he said. Barrington encourages residents to call the bureau and the Sheriff’s Office if they see a waste hauler placing a hose down a manhole. They’re likely to do so in cul-de-sacs and secluded neighborhoods, he said.
Grease Trap: Haulers say county lacks options to process waste
Grease Trap: Hauler say county lacks options to process waste
By Charles Schelle, email@example.com
Eldersburg Eagle March 11, 2008
Dale Fogle, president of Fogle’s Septic in Sykesville, says he doesn’t bring his grease to Carroll County receiving stations because county employees frown on treating grease.
And that’s OK, said Joe Barrington, Carroll County bureau chief of utilities. He wants to keep track of it, and hopes to create a permitting process to see where the grease goes.
The county’s wastewater treatment plants are too small and don’t have the right bacteria to quickly and efficiently process liquid grease to prevent damage to the plants’ motors.
“It requires a good bit of energy and cost,” he said. And so does building a plant to efficiently process grease, he added, noting that solid grease has to be hauled to the county’s landfills.
The issue of waste grease and other items that are dumped illegally is of great concern to Barrington. He said some septic haulers are dumping grease and other materials down county manholes, clogging the system and causing waste to spill out into reservoir areas.
It’s a problem that causes problems for the environment and to county coffers – in fiscal 2008, the county spent $11,865.53 reimbursing homeowners and businesses for damage done by an overflowed water line on Route 32 in Sykesville thanks to grease; and the average cleanup of a clogged line costs $1,000 each.
But haulers such as Fogle are the models of what should be done, said Barrington.
Fogle brings his liquid grease to a station in Gaithersburg operated by the Washington Suburban Sanitation Commission. The commission, which oversees operations in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, accepts waste from outside the county as long as the hauler is permitted with the commission, according to Charles Card, of the commission’s Fats, Oils and Grease Unit.
Fogle said his company hauls grease to Gaithersburg because the 30-inch diameter pipes and larger volumes of water makes it easier for the grease to break up and be treated.
He also brings some loads of grease to Mel Schneider of Gaither. Schneider said he is experimenting with a process that breaks down grease to add to compost, in order to enrich the compost with carbon.
Without a permitted place to receive liquid grease in the county, dishonest haulers could easily just dump their loads down the drains. But the county doesn’t have an easy way of knowing when a hauler picks up liquid grease and where it’s going.
Barrington is appealing to all of Carroll County to figure out a solution.
He said he would like to see a permit formed in the county, training of local police to enforce the laws and creation of a process to verify what’s being dumped.
With proper paperwork between the company generating grease, the hauler, the receiving station and local government, Barrington said that, “Anytime (a hauler) should be capable of telling how much is in the vehicle and (compare) it with the manifest.”
“If they don’t (match),” he said, “there’s a problem.”
That permit and manifest process would track local haulers, but wouldn’t keep tabs on out-of-county haulers, Barrington said.
The Maryland Department of Environment uses logs as a tool to keep track of waste, and something along the lines of what Barrington proposes could work to track illegal dumping, said Michelle Barnes, head of the Maryland Attorney General’s Environmental Crimes Unit.
“Anything that gathers more information is more helpful,” she said.
Fogle says he is open to the idea of the county having a permitting process to keep track of where the grease is going and how much is being disposed.
He said his company has to do the same thing for hazardous waste, to an extent assuming liability of the waste he picks up from customers.
“Once it’s on the hauler’s truck, he’s responsible for it,” he said.
Receiving stations that charge per load increase the temptation for haulers to illegally dump, as it can prove to be costly, said Card. Instead, the WSSC charges an annual fee for a permit to accept fats, oils and grease.
“Once someone is permitted,” he said, “there’s no incentive to cheat.”
Thus far …
Joe Barrington, Carroll County’s chief of the bureau of utilities, says septic haulers are increasingly dumping grease and other materials down county manholes. The practice, which is illegal, clogs the system and can cause waste to spill out into reservoir areas.
Grease is a particular problem, Barrington said. Built-up grease in sewer lines gives off hydrogen sulfide gas that reacts with moisture to form sulfuric acid – disintegrating brass caps, concrete walls and linings.
Officials suspect haulers often dump down manholes as a means of saving time and money. Haulers are required to transport liquid grease to a location permitted by the Environmental Protection Agency.
The Maryland Attorney General’s environmental crimes unit says water pollution carries either a one-year jail sentence and/or a $25,000 fine. Officials in the Attorney General’s office say illegal dumping is “one of the most prevalent problems” they face.
Report illegal dumping
Residents may report suspicious dumping activity to the state Attorney General’s Office at 410-537-3333.
Farmer says compost is the answer to grease issue
Farmer says compost is the answer to grease issue
By Charles Schelle, firstname.lastname@example.org
Carroll Eagle March 22, 2008
Mel Schneider of Gaither believes he has an alternative for a problem that county officials say has become a growing issue in Carroll County – the illegal dumping of commercial grease into the county’s water and sewer system.
And ironically, Schneider’s solution is “growing” as well – as in agriculture.
Schneider, who owns his own farm, is experimenting with adding sludge and commercial grease from restaurants’ grease traps to compost piles – as a means of ultimately helping his crops.
“The science is the easy part. I proved that the science works,” Schneider said. “(Our farm) would like to do something to make a difference. I think this is a possibility.
“The hard part is the regulations,” he added, noting that government requires complex and costly permitting. “Government should be promoting this, not impeding it.”
But Schneider has something of an ally in Joe Barrington of the Carroll County bureau chief of utilities.
Barrington said haulers of commercial grease are illegally dumping it down manholes in the county – causing clogs and overflowed sewage to seep into homes and businesses, and into reservoir areas.
It’s a problem that causes problems for the environment and to county coffers – in fiscal 2008, the county spent $11,865.53 reimbursing homeowners and businesses for damage done by an overflowed water line on Route 32 in Sykesville; and the average cleanup of a clogged line costs $1,000 each.
Barrington said he would welcome an alternative that would provide an affordable option.
To Schneider, this composting method is his calling.
He has traveled across the country to study the application of grease and commercial food waste and has a permit to start operations in Jamaica, where the country doesn’t have advanced septic and sewage treatment systems.
He said using grease for compost is better for the environment and is also better for sewer operators’ budgets.
Grease works well in compost because of its carbon properties, he said. It balances out the nitrogen from manure. The properties help reduce weeds and works great in the garden, he said. And in about six months, he said, you get a finished, earthen-aroma product.
“If you get a dry year, it holds the moisture in,” he said.
Like soil and water
Schneider started researching the process about four years ago. While on Jamaica’s northern coast he was looking for something that would “be as untechnical as can be.”
He found that hotels in Jamaica have nowhere to go with their sewage, so workers devised roll-off containers, sometimes on trucks, that drain water out of the sludge, septage or grease.
Schneider’s operation involves trucks with two chambers with yellow mesh that act as a strainer. The water is mixed with a polymer and is funneled to a spout. The water can be emptied, while the solids stay in the box.
“The liquid that comes out is treatable in wastewater plants,” he said. “The stuff that causes problems stays in the box.”
In Jamaica, the water would be added back into the compost pile so the temperatures can cook off any pathogens and the water can provide moisture to the pile, he said.
But if Schneider, or any individual, wants to start a grease compost operation, they have to overcome barriers including a $300,000 bond for an industrial site permit.
Lisa Lamphier, spokeswoman for Maryland Department of Environment, said the department would have to physically see an operation to determine what permits are needed – and how much the cost would be. Without seeing Schneider’s operation, she said, the department can’t comment on what he would or would not need.
Lamphier did say that as long as the compost is being used properly and all is used and nothing – including wastewater – is disposed, then it is considered recycling … not waste. “The caveat is if it is being done properly,” she said.
Also, she added, Schneider would have to check with the state if it there is potential that the water flows into the Patapsco River.
Lamphier said it’s not difficult for people to obtain grease for recycling or using for bio-fuel. Montgomery County is doing just that. In 2006 that county established a Vegetable Oil Exhange Listing (www.montgomerycountymd.gov/veggieoil) where people or businesses can list or request oils.
Carroll residents and businesses are getting involved on the site. One listing in Sykesville is offering three gallons of cooking oils; and Freestate BioFuels of Westminster also lists available oils.
Schneider said the county’s Northern Landfill could develop compost piles using his method, but he thinks it would be best for the county to allow farmers to take advantage of the operation to preserve farmland and give them a new source of income.
“We have to allow farmers to do things other than raising wheat and corn because that can be done cheaper out in the Midwest where the soil is more productive,” he said.
The compost can help replace some of the chemical fertilizers that farmers use, Schneider added.
Barrington said that from his perspective with county government – in trying to stop illegal dumping – he would like to see laws in Maryland mirror those in Pennsylvania, which make it easier for anyone to take commercial grease or waste from restaurants to use for bio-fuels or compost.
Schneider sees opportunities beyond grease and septage for composting. He said Carroll and Howard counties have a need to compost horse manure because of all the horse farms. Also, school and restaurant scraps can also be used, he said.
“How hard would it be to start off with all the schools in the county?” he said. “How hard would it be for when the trays come in, scrape the food here, the trash here, and here you go?”