EASTON — Talbot County officials have been advised not to publicly discuss aspects of a petition calling for the rescission of Resolution 281 — which approved water and sewer for half of the Lakeside at Trappe development — because of litigation on the issue.
The Talbot County Planning Commission and the Public Works Advisory Board — who would make a recommendation on the rescission of 281 — have been instructed by Patrick Thomas, the county attorney, not to publicly discuss the petition, which has been signed by more than 170 residents in the county.
The petition’s author, Dan Watson, has also brought the effort to the Talbot County Circuit Court in a legal attempt to force the county to vote on legislation that would rescind 281.
In addition to the petition, officials are “advised not to comment” on a recent letter sent by Watson and all “matters which are currently in litigation,” Thomas said in an email. Still, the attorney said they are not legally barred from discussing the details.
“To confirm, there is no ‘gag order,’ on any members of the Planning Commission or the Public Works Advisory Board,” he added.
When informed of the advisory, Bill Boicourt, a planning commission member, said he and others on the body requested a special meeting, which was held on July 16. As a result of that meeting, the planning commission will be able to hold work sessions on questions they have regarding Lakeside at Trappe, but are still advised to not comment on the petition or the rescission of 281.
The petition drafted in May calls for the rescission of Resolution 281 because it was passed by the Talbot County Council last August, before developers changed some plans for a 540,000 gallon a day wastewater facility in the small town of Trappe.
Prior to the petition’s introduction, environmental organization ShoreRivers won a court battle in April, forcing the Maryland Department of the Environment to issue another discharge permit for Lakeside because the public was not able to comment on those changed plans.
The Talbot County Council has not moved on the petition, but only one member needs to introduce legislation based on the petition.
Councilman Pete Lesher said he wanted the advice of county officials and a longer analysis and review of the facts.
In a July 11 letter published in The Star Democrat, Watson said the attorney was trying to stamp out discussion on his petition following an emailed letter on July 1, in which he argued for the rescission of Resolution 281. The resident had CC’d most county officials involved with Lakeside at Trappe.
“The next day, (Thomas) sent an email instructing the Planning Commission and the Public Works Advisory Board to not discuss the substance of that letter in their meetings, ironically using as an excuse a lawsuit I had to file — not on substance, but solely concerning the council’s violation of their own procedures,” he wrote. “It appears the council does not want anyone to read that July 1 letter, no doubt because they recognize the significance of the problems and the possibility that attention will result in a re-examination and perhaps delay of the Lakeside project.”
Watson voices concerns about the compliance and operational history of the town of Trappe’s existing wastewater treatment plant which will take the first 120 homes from Lakeside development. The Trappe Town Council strongly supports the Lakeside development.
After reading the letter, Boicourt said he wanted to discuss new details from Watson in the coming work sessions to “bring up questions that we need answers to.” He said the Planning Commission’s 3-2 vote last year on Resolution 281 was already contentious, and some members wanted another discussion on the matter.
“The purpose is to move forward fairly quickly, because things are moving fairly quickly,” he said. “That determination is crucial to the development (but) has nothing to do, really, with the county council. Our ordinance says you have to have a determination of consistency with the comprehensive plan, so it’s an independent vote. ... There’s information out there, that if it’s true, we should have.”
Ray Clarke, the county engineer and head of the Public Works Advisory Board, did not answer a request for comment and instead sent an interview request to the county attorney. In an emailed reply, Thomas said Watson’s letter was an attempt to split the different bodies.
“Mr. Watson’s letter to the Planning Commission and the PWAB was, by his own words, an attempt to ‘by-pass’ the Council,” Thomas wrote in a statement, “in an apparent effort to drive wedges between those who serve the county in their official capacities.”
Phil Councell, the chair of the Planning Commission, said he wanted a “thorough review of the facts” after the new revelations.
“My hope as chair is to work with the county council and the Public Works Advisory Board to resolve all the outstanding issues,” he said.