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Ocean Pines customers exempt from flush fee once again

Ocean Pines sanitary sewer customers could see savings on their water and sewer bills this year after Maryland Department of the Environment officials granted a request to exempt the utility from a flush fee.

Ocean Pines sign

Submitted file photo

By Charlene Sharpe, Associate Editor

Maryland Department of the Environment officials have granted a request from Worcester County for a flush fee exemption in Ocean Pines. 

Customers of the Ocean Pines Sanitary Service Area will not have to pay a Bay Restoration Fee for the calendar year, and should see savings on their water and sewer bills because nitrogen and phosphorous levels at the local plant did not exceed certain thresholds. 

“The water and wastewater staff worked very hard to ensure the exemption would be reinstated,” Commissioner Chip Bertino said. “This will greatly benefit ratepayers.”

Historically, Ocean Pines residents have not had to pay the Bay Restoration Fee. The fee, commonly referred to as the flush tax, goes to a dedicated fund used to upgrade publicly owned wastewater treatment plants throughout Maryland with enhanced nutrient removal technology.

In years past, low levels of nitrogen and phosphorous at the Ocean Pines plant have earned it an exemption from the fee, which amounts to about $15 a quarter for residents. 

In 2022, however, a mechanical issue caused those levels at the plant to increase and the county was denied an exemption. The following year, a shortage of chemicals, caused by supply chain issues, resulted in slightly higher phosphorous levels at the plant. The state denied the county’s request for an exemption because the phosphorous level exceeded the eligibility requirement by 0.015 mg/l.

Worcester County applied again in 2024, however, and officials have been advised that the exemption has been granted. Dallas Baker, the county’s director of public works, said the plant’s recent nitrogen and phosphorous levels show that it’s reliable when there aren’t mechanical problems or supply issues.

“It shows that when conditions are normal the plant is more than capable of meeting bay restoration limits,” Baker said. 

In the wake of last year’s supply chain issues, he said his staff had tripled the volume of the necessary chemicals kept on hand in case of future supply chain issues. He expects the plant to continue meeting the eligibility threshold for the Bay Restoration Fee. 

“It’s always our goal to hit this and keep costs down for people,” he said.

This story appears in the March 21, 2024, print edition of the Bayside Gazette.