Talbot County officials weren’t enamored of the town of Trappe’s desire to build a major housing development, so they twice turned down the Eastern Shore hamlet’s efforts to upgrade local sewer and water capacity, in 2004 and 2005. And theoretically, that should have been the end of it. But it wasn’t.
Five years’ worth of state and locals records obtained by The Center for Public Integrity reveal an unprecedented and, at least temporarily, successful campaign by Trappe to go around the normally required county approval to get permission for the upgrades directly from the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE). While it is unclear if any laws were broken, state officials now say they are looking into the matter. And while the recession has temporarily shelved the development, questions over the legality and propriety of what happened remain unresolved.
The documents obtained by the Center, including e-mails, letters, and memos, show that as early as 2004 MDE officials knew that Trappe did not have the required Talbot County approval to build a wastewater treatment plant for the proposed Trappe East development. And yet, on May 30, 2006, MDE issued the town a construction permit for a sewer plant large enough to handle the waste from the entire proposed development: 2,000 homes and 400 units of commercial space on more than 900 acres along Route 50. The development, according to documents, has the potential to increase the population of Trappe from its current 1,100 residents to more than 7,000 and is expected to take 15 to 20 years to complete, if it ever gets underway.
A surprise to county officials
Talbot County officials said they did not know Trappe had received the MDE permit to construct a 540,000-gallon-a-day sewer plant until earlier this year when the town sought — and later withdrew its application for — a $21 million federal stimulus grant to build the plant and a water tower.