By Greg Ellison
(Feb. 17, 2022) After previously thinking about investing more than $3 million to convert the Ocean Pines Golf Course irrigation system to one that sprays treated wastewater, the Worcester County Commissioners have opted against moving ahead with the project.
In a letter dated Feb. 3, Public Works Director Dallas Baker informed the Ocean Pines Association of the change of course on the proposal.
“County commissioners have not elected to move forward with the golf course wastewater effluent spray irrigation project,” he said.
Baker said a memo of understanding for the irrigation upgrades was cleared by the commissioners in closed session on Feb. 1.
“The MOU failed to garner the support needed to pass,” he said.
Following a town hall meeting on the matter in September, the Ocean Pines Board of Directors issued a letter of support for Worcester to convert the golf course irrigation system.
In January 2020, the Ocean Pines Service Area Water & Wastewater Advisory Board was authorized by the county to explore using highly treated effluent to irrigate greens and fairways.
“Highly treated effluent” is defined as water meeting current Maryland Department of the Environment Bay Restoration standards.
Ocean Pines Association President Colette Horn said county officials initially had pitched the effluent irrigation project.
“The discussion of the project was at a very high level in that no details had been decided upon,” she said. “There were many questions put to the county representative during a town hall meeting with our membership.”
Horn said board members had expressed interest in exploring the project’s particulars and what it would cost association members.
Commissioner Chip Bertino said county officials eventually concluded the project’s price tag was too high.
“The project for irrigation was roughly about $3.7 million,” he said. “It was a worthwhile project, however, when we started looking at the details of what it would take to do … it really fell outside what the county should and could do.”
The commissioners had appeared poised to spend more $3 million to make the switch from a system that draws and disperses groundwater to keep the greens green to one that is fed by harmless treated effluent from the county wastewater treatment operation in Ocean Pines.
In terms of project costs, during the town hall meeting in September, the cost of building the irrigation infrastructure was estimated at roughly $2.8 million, with another $400,000 required for piping to transport treated effluent to the golf course.
Additionally, Worcester was budgeting $3.5 million to replace a belt filter press (dewatering equipment) at the Ocean Pines wastewater treatment plant.
“We’ll still go forward with that, which is part of maintenance and capital improvement,” he said.
Horn said after catching wind that Worcester County plans to halt all activity tied to the irrigation system upgrades, General Manager John Viola is researching alternatives.
“Mr. Viola is working with his director of golf operations [John Malinowski] and golf superintendent [Justin Hartshorne] to evaluate the condition of the existing irrigation system, assess needs, and come up with a plan to address identified needs,” she said.
Bertino said Ocean Pines wastewater treatment plant has sufficient capacity currently and discharges a highly cleaned effluent.
“You have a very good water treatment plant in Ocean Pines, in fact it’s the best in the state,” he said. “There was really no need to do this project and the cost associated really didn’t justify the county getting involved.”