“But whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.”
– John 4:14
Water is life, it’s a simple fact. Most of our bodies are made of it. The plants we grow in our gardens need it as much as clean air and sunlight. Every single beverage we consume is based on it. To live properly, we must consume at least eight 8oz cups of clean water daily. Droughts kill farms and starve populations.
For the town of Rising Sun, Maryland, the state-mandated pursuit of providing a modern water and sewer system has been an arduous task, needlessly overcomplicated by interference from the Cecil County government and complaints by those advocating for well water, such as former mayor Robert Fisher.
In 2005, the town devised a comprehensive plan to resolve the issue as required by the state of Maryland by building a wastewater treatment plant and running water lines from the Chester Water Authority. This would allow them to import one million gallons of water every day and provide the town’s own needs, as well as allow them to sell to outlying properties that request it, partner with the county on their economic development initiatives, but more importantly provide resources to alleviate documented water quality issues in the region.
In 2006, a building moratorium was placed on the town due to its inability to meet the water and sewer requirements and stunted the town’s growth. This brought on a $90 million lawsuit by developer Frapple LP, which planned to construct a 120-house subdivision dubbed Wellington Manor. To remedy their issues, the town began moving forward on the $14 million wastewater plant and the deal with CWA.
While it is true that well water is sometimes higher quality than water that has been purified by chemicals, it is not an absolute certainty, nor is it unlimited. Previous wells had been drilled to no avail. Wells also dry up whereas a reservoir fed by the Susquehanna will not. Town Commissioner Augie Pierson clearly explained to the Cecil Whig in 2012 that not only can new well water not promise to consistently meet the town’s demands, existing regulations requires public water systems drawing from the ground to be treated by chlorination, which renders the quality point moot.
The town employed multiple engineering firms which estimated a cost of $30 million to find, drill and pipe wells that would ultimately provide a low yield, and the idea was ruled impractical. Running a pipeline from the Chester County Water Authority came at lower cost and guaranteed a yield of one million gallons per day, enough to abolish drought restrictions that have frequently plagued the town. An additional $1 million would later be saved thanks to a change in material to be used in the pipes.
On April 11, 2012, they broke ground on the new wastewater treatment facility. As the legal battle with Frapple continued, all but one of the counts against the town of Rising Sun were dropped, and they declined a $5 million settlement. Eventually, the judge presiding over the case ruled in favor of the town.
PNC Bank initially funded the wastewater plant project via a construction loan that was repaid by a low-interest loan to the town from the United States Department of Agriculture to be paid back over the next 40 years. In 2013, the town extended a contract with Davenport and Company, of Towson to protect themselves from PNC calling in the tab before the USDA came across with their loan, which finally arrived in early 2015.
Rising Sun Town Administrator Calvin Bonenberger Jr. was accused of working for the interests of developers, due to the fact that the map of the water line from CWA ran over land owned by George Beer, a developer who built Maple Heights in Rising Sun. Keith Campbell, a former member of the RS board of appeals made an accusation that Bonenberger was tied to Beer and acting for his own enrichment.
Bonenberger responded to the allegation by filing a grievance against himself to force the ethics board to perform an investigation and held an open forum to answer questions of 75 people from the community, intent on clearing the air. He was later vindicated of any malfeasance.
In December of 2013, it was proposed for commissioner George Walker to take over water and sewer from commissioner Lyn Duggar after she worked with Mayor Fisher to undermine the town’s water plan by spreading a questionable survey implying that well water. Days later, the switch was approved. The survey pushed by Fisher and Duggar was debunked by legal research carried out by the town attorney, which revealed the land they sought to drill on was protected.
In August of 2015, as the wastewater plant neared completion, the Rising Sun town hall began receiving calls from interested developers looking to build in the town. Once the wastewater plant was completed, the next phase was the pipeline project to connect to Chester Water Authority. Current estimates placed the project at $10 million. In August of 2016, the town made a grant application to cover some of the current estimated $10 million cost of connecting to CWA and spare residents some expense. Mayor Travis Marion and the board of commissioners spoke to Governor Larry Hogan and asked for assistance.
County Councilman Dan Schneckenberger voiced support for the agreement with CWA and promised to help find more grant money to finance the pipeline. Unfortunately, sewer costs rose along the way. But with the future looking bright, the town looked at lifting the building moratorium that had halted development for a decade since the water issue arose. Soon after, however, changes to the USDA’s policy for low-interest loans left the town looking for a new way to pay for the connection to CWA, and they were forced to take another loan out from PNC Bank.
In a measure to save money, the pipeline map was rerouted and construction on the Pennsylvania side began in February 2018. In April, the Maryland Board of Public Works awarded Rising Sun a $500,000 grant for the water line project. On May 2nd, Rising Sun broke ground.
The next hurdle was funding the installation of out-of-town fire hydrants, a measure that would help protect residents outside the town limits of Rising Sun by allowing fires outside of town to be better fought. The topic was discussed with County Executive Dr. Alan McCarthy, who refused to issue county funds to install hydrants. Despite this, the town were under pressure from state and federal lawmakers to install the hydrants regardless. McCarthy reneged on a budget allocation and directed them to apply for casino funds.
Later that month, Wellington Manner was purchased by Patricia Wagner, Rising Sun’s public accountant, and a town resident expressed concern that the town was risking another lawsuit, or worse, that Wagner was receiving undue benefits by letting the pipe run through her land. Wagner however, addressed his concerns by pointing out that she is paying for and using the land for pasture, and that her cows cannot drink chlorinated town water. Even though all private property owners allowing the water line to go through their property get a five-year window to link up for free, it was of no use to her pasture and she only asked if it be transferred to her other property.
When $350,000 of Hollywood Casino revenues were divided among 48 applicants of the Video Lottery Terminal Grants, Rising Sun received $21,428 of these moneys, which fell short of the $57,200 they needed to pay for the hydrant project. Mayor Marion expressed dismay at the County’s inability to pass a budget amendment to finance the project for the safety of county residents. As a result, the people of Rising Sun had to pay to protect people outside of Rising Sun in order to comply with state and federal orders.
Concerns arose again in September 2018 when Chester PA planned to sell the Chester Water Authority to a private company. What this meant for the town’s water supply was in question. Commissioner Alan Authenreath assured that there was nothing to worry about. Protections had been set for the town’s sake just in case such an event occurred, such as a non-competition clause that precludes CWA from running any lines within five miles of the town.
In November 2018, the building moratorium was finally lifted after a dozen years of town development being halted. Rising Sun was declared open for business by Mayor Travis Marion.
In March 2019, just as everything was ready to launch, the County blocked Rising Sun’s long pursued comprehensive plan, arguing falsely that their plan extended along 273 to Wilson Road, up to the PA state line, and six miles south down 276 and clashed with the McCarthy administration’s 2018 Master Water and Sewer plan, which alongside the County’s previous 2010 comprehensive plan focuses on development along the intersection of Route 40 and Interstate 95.
Mayor Marion and Town Administrator Bonenberger stood their ground, arguing that their plan had already been discussed and approved with the county representatives and the state. Several properties around the town had requested their service be extended to them; among them Ramsey Ford, Calvert Elementary, Calvert Manor, and Rising Sun High School. Contrary to the claim of extending from Wilson to the PA line, the water line would only go as far as Rising Sun High School to service the aforementioned locations, as well as a few other properties looking to reduce maintenance issues and the costs of maintaining their wells and septic systems.
The town’s comprehensive plan, drafted in 2005, was in line with the County’s 2010 comprehensive plan and well in progress before County Executive Alan McCarthy’s administration put forth their own Master Water and Sewer Plan in November 2018, which clashed with the plans Rising Sun made first. County officials claimed not to know that Rising Sun was seeking a quota of one million gallons of water per day to distribute. Mayor Marion responded to this by reminding that he sent them the documents when the town filed paperwork in 2016 to supply as much as 1.8 million gallons per day.
County Council President Bob Meffley accused their plans of conflicting with the Rural Legacy Program. A claim echoed by County Administration Director Al Wein, who also released a statement favoring the County’s plan over Rising Sun’s and claimed that the Code of Cecil County prohibits municipalities from extending water and sewer service beyond their boundaries without the consent of the County Executive. Wein also echoed the accusation that Rising Sun did not inform the McCarthy Administration of their plans.
The accusation against Rising Sun is easily proven false by years of reporting in the Cecil Whig by Jane Bellmyer. It has been clearly stated in articles going back as far as 2012 that the town sought one million gallons of water daily so that they could provide their own needs and sell to neighboring towns and properties within the map of their approved municipal growth area in order to bolster revenues and lower the water and sewer costs for their residents. Unless then-Councilman McCarthy has been living under a rock and never reads the newspaper, it would be impossible not to know.
McCarthy spread a rumor without evidence that Rising Sun planned to run lines as far as Newark DE and vowed to halt any attempt by Rising Sun to run water outside of their borders. To justify his position, he claimed that it would violates the county’s comprehensive plan because of the area’s designation as a rural conservation district.
Vincent Sammons, a local businessman and current chairman of Cecil County’s GOP Central Committee, was told by Executive McCarthy at the recent County Fair that he was concerned about Chester Water Authority’s nitrate levels being too high compared to Artesian Water Resources, which services Elkton and has the rights to service properties along Route 40 and Interstate 95 (the same path as McCarthy’s conflicting water and sewer plan).
However, Artesian Water’s own nitrate levels are no less than Chester Water Authority’s simply because they buy and resell water from CWA to Elkton and properties with a 20% upcharge, making the Executive’s claim absolutely ridiculous. Artesian provides the exact same water as CWA that has won awards for its quality and taste.
The real issue is that Rising Sun’s Comprehensive Plan makes it a direct competitor to Artesian for providing water to surrounding areas. The County had previously sold all its water plants to Artesian, giving them a monopoly in the area and total power over pricing that would be tacked onto their customers’ property taxes at a flat rate. That monopoly lasted until Rising Sun’s wastewater plant and CWA pipeline completed and they were ready to start selling to their neighbors.
It would seem that to protect Artesian Water’s monopoly and ensure water sales along Route 40 and I-95 that had been guaranteed, the County trampled over Rising Sun’s plans and pulled rank when they took issue with it. In that effort, the County abused its power and overstepped by rejecting Rising Sun’s Master Water and Sewer Plan in favor of its own.
Measures by the town to address water concerns expressed by the Maryland Department of Environment that could only be solved by piping water out of town limits were blocked. Among them were Rising Sun Elementary School ( Executive McCarthy also blocked a grant application to the USDA which would have paid entire cost for water to Rising Sun Elementary), which has suffering from high nitrate levels in its current water system, fourteen residential Southern States properties at Wilson and Telegraph that are suffering water quality issues and have been ordered by MDE to resolve them, two residential wells contaminated by underground fuel tanks, and 30 residential properties that are identified in the County’s own water and sewer plan.
All of these locations fall within the approved map of the Town of Rising Sun’s municipal growth area described in the comprehensive plan they have worked toward since 2005, thirteen years before McCarthy’s pipe dream was put forward. But the County, instead of working out a compromise with Rising Sun to allow both water and sewer plans to coexist went as far as to remove the Southern States from the map.
Is it really rural reservation that they are thinking of, or has service to these properties already been promised to Artesian? The pretense of protecting rural areas was never an issue until the McCarthy administration devised its own plan and promised business to the Artesian Water Resource, one of his large campaign donors.
The County had no legal rights to step on the previously approved municipal growth area of Rising Sun that had been part of their state-mandated municipal growth area and comprehensive plan. Rising Sun’s plan had been entirely transparent with the County and Maryland Department of Planning’s clearing house since its inception.
On July 22, 2019, following a visit to the town of Rising Sun by Lt. Governor Boyd Rutherford, the Maryland Department of the Environment approved a version of the Cecil County Master Water and Sewer Plan amended to allow Rising Sun to run its water outside their limits and service outlying properties. Town officials declared victory on the matter, despite other commentators seeking to downplay it by pointing to small technicalities and parroting the McCarthy’s administrations falsehoods.
Rising Sun has fought long and hard to comply with the state of Maryland’s demand to modernize their water and sewer system and pave the way for growth. They have cleared significant hurdles such as lawsuits, cost and funding issues, slander of town officials and interference from biased parties. The County Executive deliberately obstructed them in favor of his own pursuits and was reprimanded by the Maryland Department of the Environment for it, providing another stain on his record to go with the recent news of his violation of the County Charter Article 4, Section 405 (b).
But in the end the facts are clear, the MDE has amended the County’s plan to allow Rising Sun to run water lines outside municipal limits. The town of Rising Sun does not look to disturb the rural charm of the Calvert area, or annex it entirely into the town, but only to provide clean water to locations that the state has demanded action on and provide better means for firefighters to protect them.
In our investigation of the matter, we have found no malfeasance by the Town of Rising Sun, and nothing but salacious misconduct by the McCarthy administration and well advocates amounting to public corruption. No sane individual should condemn a measure that will provide the homes of people in rural areas with clean water to drink and protect them from fire.