The Maryland Department of the Environment will likely not assess a penalty to Howard County for sewage overflow resulting from a loss of electricity at the county's wastewater plant in Savage, according to a spokesman.
"As a general rule, we do not assess penalties for these types of storms," said Jay Apperson, a spokesman for MDE.
Apperson said MDE does have legal agreements with large districts such as Howard County that would allow them to assess overflow fees when sewage flows into rivers, but due to the nature of superstorm Sandy, he said it wasn't likley the county would suffer any financial penalties.
He said the wastewater overflow that occurred overnight Monday and Tuesday morning at the Little Patuxent Water Reclamation Plant may have been a larger issue if it happened when people may have been swimming in the river or if there was any shellfish harvesiting in that area. But those activities are not occurring now.
Apperson said MDE had sent an inspector to the site on Wednesday morning to conduct sample tests and that the county will have to provide a full report on the spill within five days.
On Tuesday, County Executive Ken Ulman said approximately 20 to 25 million gallons of wastewater spilled into the Little Patuxent River after the wastewater plant lost power and was unable to pump wastewater into its holding tanks. However, he said the spill was not a major health concern and that it posed no risk to drinking water.
In 2011, the county agreed to a $10,500 fine with MDE over a series of violations at a wastewater facility that serves Bushy Park Elementary School, in Glenwood, according to reporting from the Columbia Flier.
Apperson said districts are fined when situations occur that are within their control. He said MDE would consider superstorm Sandy as a "20-year-storm" and therefore will likely rule the spill was outside the county's control. However, he said the department would be examining incidents on a case-by-case basis.
Apperson said Hurricane Irene, which hit Maryland last year, was also considered a "20-year-storm."
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