TRAPPE — Woody Lambert has lived on Wrightsmill Road in Trappe for 19 years. He’s enjoyed a nearby flowing creek and open stretches of farmland.
Lambert and his family lived quietly in their small country town — until 2019, when they heard about the 2,501 housing development Lakeside at Trappe and its immense wastewater facility that will spray up to 540,000 gallons of treated sewage water just 2,000 feet from their home.
He and his wife Dorri attended every public meeting available at the town and county level concerning the development. They hired an expensive lawyer to represent them through the meetings as they voiced opposition to the spray irrigation system, which discharges wastewater by spraying it onto field crops. They are concerned about pollution to the nearby Miles Creek, “an odor” and even mosquitoes on their property.
In meetings and written letters, Lambert recommended to the Talbot County Council that they look at alternative methods of wastewater discharge, or using the existing wastewater plant in Easton.
“I don’t think the county council even looked at my proposals,” he said. “They’re going to be spraying treated water on 80 acres. I’m concerned for my family’s health and safety.”
The long-planned Lakeside at Trappe real estate development continues to generate opposition and criticism from skeptical neighbors, environmentalists and a group calling itself Friends of Trappe.
The group, made up of four Trappe residents — Rebecca Ellison, Jay Corvan, Faye Nave and her daughter Julie Nave — filed an administrative appeal through the Talbot County Board of Appeals on Sept. 10 to halt development plans. The board is currently reviewing the appeal.
The Lakeside development could eventually total as many as 2,501 homes and has gained phased-in approvals from the Talbot County Council and Talbot County Planning Commission and has the official backing from the Trappe Town Council.
But the Friends of Trappe argues the planned development east of the small Eastern Shore town endangers the Choptank Watershed and could cost the town “millions” of dollars.
“They need to do their due diligence, vote on the issues at hand, and pay attention to why this resolution does not comply with the comprehensive plan,” the appeal reads. “They should not disregard the opinion of consulting experts and should accept advice from their environmental experts.”
Over time, developers will phase in the construction of the new wastewater treatment facility, which will start by treating 100,000 gallons of wastewater per day after phase 1A, and reach a maximum of 540,000 gallons per day once all six phases are completed.
Friends of Trappe is opposed to hooking up the first 120 housing units, or 37,500 gallons of wastewater per day, to the existing wastewater treatment facility in Trappe, which will handle sewage until the new plant is built.
The new facility uses a biological nutrient removal (BNR) system as opposed to an enhanced nutrient removal (ENR) system, the current environmental standard. The plant is certified by the state, however, and has 100,000 gallons of additional capacity.
Opponents worry the development will pollute La Trappe Creek, a tributary that flows into the Lower Choptank Watershed. La Trappe received a grade of C+ from environmental group ShoreRivers earlier this year.
In response to the additional hooked-up homes, Trappe plans to upgrade the facility to ENR but has not finished the required engineering study yet.
The town amassed a $3.5 million debt associated with upgrading that same facility in 2003.
Lyndsey Ryan, Trappe’s town attorney, said she has no concerns with hooking up additional homes to the plant.
“Trappe’s existing plant has a permit capacity of 200,000 gallons per day and is currently operating at half capacity,” she said. “The first phase of Lakeside will add, at most, an additional 30,000 gallons per day, such that the plant will have plenty of excess capacity available.”
The County Council recommended in a resolution approving the Lakeside development that the town improve or alter its discharge methods to address any water quality concerns and impacts on La Trappe Creek.
“It appears the Trappe wastewater treatment plant will not be able to meet the very stringent phosphorus cap for La Trappe Creek,” county officials wrote. “In evaluating upgrades and expansions to accommodate new growth, the town of Trappe may therefore need to consider relocation of its outfall pipe, or alternative effluent disposal methods.”
There is currently no plan to do so.
The new wastewater treatment plant, which will take sewage and wastewater for all homes beyond the first 120 built, is also facing intense pressure from Friends of Trappe and environmental groups.
Trappe East Business Holdings Trust and RAUCH Engineering have proposed a spray irrigation system that will discharge the treated wastewater by spraying it onto irrigation fields. Environmental advocates worry the spraying will result in an excess of nutrient-polluted wastewater flowing into the Miles Creek, which connects to the Choptank Watershed.
Field crops such as orchardgrass (the proposed crop for the plan) can take nutrients out of sprayed wastewater, but in the cold, winter months or during rainy days, wastewater cannot be sprayed. Under the current plan, the facility will store the effluent for up to 60 days, the minimum requirement from the Maryland Department of the Environment.
Critics say they are concerned that the 540,000 gallon a day wastewater plant does not have enough storage capacity, since on heavy, rainy days it could have a load of a million gallons — and 60 days would not be enough time to hold it.
“The permit application (to MDE) as drafted now is not sufficiently protective of water quality,” said Alan Girard, Eastern Shore director with Chesapeake Bay Foundation. “The Choptank cannot receive any new loads of nutrients. It is impaired.”
He and Matt Pluta, the Choptank Riverkeeper at ShoreRivers, both recommended county oversight for each phase of water and sewer development, but that was not in resolution 281.
In addition to storage issues, both argue the developers have not been transparent about a zero discharge level to groundwater for nutrient pollutants, such as nitrogen and phosphorous.
The original draft permit submitted to MDE described 8 milligrams per liter of discharged nitrogen and 3 milligrams per liter of phosphorous, pollutant levels above new state requirements, they said.
Before obtaining a discharge permit, developers will need to show that they can reduce nitrogen to 3 milligrams per liter and phosphorus loads to .3 milligrams per liter, said Jay Apperson, the deputy director at the office of communications for MDE. And they will have to prove the new plant can handle wastewater for up to 75 days, a stricter cap from the 60 days the developers first proposed.
But Pluta wrote letters to MDE in both July and August, requesting the agency deny the permit. Pluta argues developers had not made the project’s nutrient management plan — a more comprehensive plan for pollution reduction — public at the time, raising red flags about transparency and leaving citizens and environmentalists in the dark.
In an August letter to MDE, shortly after the council voted to approve Lakeside’s plans, Pluta lambasted the county council for finding the comprehensive water and sewer plan consistent with the development on a “verbal commitment” from the developer’s attorney that they would meet environmental standards.
Pluta was so concerned, he pressed MDE to make the NMP public so residents and environmentalists can determine if it meets the standards for themselves.
“Our primary concern is that the public has been deprived of the right to comment on the contents of the nutrient management plan,” he wrote.
Pluta contends only after his letters did MDE publicize the plan. The NMP now mentions reducing nutrient pollution levels to 3 milligrams per liter of nitrogen and .3 for phosphorous.
However, in another letter, Pluta questions whether developers have the ability to meet environmental standards in the submitted NMP. He said there are “inconsistencies” worthy of pulling the permit application from them.
He wrote there is no adequate plan to handle storage requirements, no mention of the Phosphorus Management Tool, a plan to address phosphorus pollution, and a management plan that describes taking out 18 to 45 pounds per acre of phosphorus with orchardgrass, while a draft permit describes taking out 58 pounds per acre.
There are too many inconsistencies, Pluta said. “All the things we love about the river — crabbing, fishing, swimming — more nutrient pollution in the Choptank can have a dangerous impact on that,” he said. “There will be more dead zones, and algae bloom.”
Ryan Showalter, the developer’s attorney, denied Pluta’s allegations, saying “some would have you believe” spray irrigation is not safe, but the new facility will have ENR treatment and a zero discharge level of nutrients to groundwater.
“Of course, this project will comply with the terms and conditions of its permits and approvals,” he said. “It’s going to be treated to state-of-the-art conditions. This can even be sprayed within 50 feet of playgrounds — because it’s clean water.”
The proposal for Lakeside at Trappe dates back to 2003, when “Trappe East”, largely an open stretch of farm fields and country land dotted with small homes, was first annexed for the development.
The original plan included upgrading the existing wastewater treatment plant in Trappe to handle the additional homes, and even creating a police department for the new community.
With the financial crisis of 2008, the developers pulled back from construction, which had not yet begun.
The development has been in limbo since, but Showalter, the attorney, said he thought the timing was right in summer 2019. He then approached the town, suggesting that they back moving forward with constructing the entire development — 2,501 housing units.
The town agreed, and they approached the county seeking a favorable recommendation they could give to the state. They had already submitted a draft permit to MDE by that time, seeking approval for a discharge permit.
After public comments in February against the developer’s plan, Trappe and Trappe East Holdings Business Trust amended it to the current designation of a split, phased development.
Rob Eisman, who lives right near the proposed Lakeside at Trappe on Piney Hill Road, is concerned about the development.
“I’m a developer, but these waterfront homes — I just don’t know,” he said. “Everything they said they were originally going to do is falling apart. The developers are chopping up the building, and the spray irrigation runoff is from two thousand homes. Miles Creek is one of the last nice creeks in Trappe.”
For now, Lambert is still enjoying his lifestyle at Wrightsmill Road. Bu Lakeside at Trappe and its wastewater facility are a looming threat that will one day “degrade the quality” of his life.
“I am not anti-development, but I am pro-sensible development,” he said. “There are safer ways to spray effluent than aerosolizing it and spraying it. I’ve been picturing what me and the kids do at the Miles Creek — we bathe in it. They are just throwing this spray thing in to get houses up.”