Pictured above is the outfall pipe of Hebron, Maryland's small sewage treatment plant into Rewastico Creek. The stream was threatened with increased waste from Waller Landing, a 1,500-home development with 450,000 square feet of retail.
The decision by Wicomico County Circuit Court Judge Donald C. Davis means that the town will have to go back to the drawing board with plans to transform a farm field into stores, parking lots and homes.
Hebron, with its population of about 1,000, is like many Eastern Shore towns that in recent years have been challenged by large development projects.
Overnight, the tiny town would have grown to the size of Cambridge, a larger city just down the road. And thousands more homes are still planned around Hebron, and not affected by the court’s decision. So the potential threat to the local community’s quality of life and water quality are not yet gone.
But unlike in many of these David vs. Goliath battles against developers, the people of Hebron fought back against sprawl and won –- at least the preliminary battle.
Many local residents and environmental activists, including the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, are concerned that the massive project near Route 50 would overwhelm the town’s sewage treatment plant. Development in Waller Landing and nearby areas would have increased the amount of effluent pouring out of Hebron’s sewage treatment plant into the creek from less than 100,000 gallons a day to about 860,000 gallons a day.
“This project would have been a disaster for Rewastico Creek, the Nanticoke River downstream and the Chesapeake Bay,” said Barry Johansson, president of the Wicomico Environmental Trust, which fought the project. “It would have contributed to the death of the Chesapeake Bay.”
It is not yet clear if Hebron town officials or the developer, Porter Mill Properties LLC, will appeal the ruling. The property is listed for sale with Long and Foster Company realtors.
Anthony Gorski, attorney for the town of Hebron, said he does not yet know what will happen next. “I haven’t even read the decision yet,” Gorski said. “I just got it here on my desk.”
Judge Davis wrote in his decision that the 400-acre planned unit development for Waller Landing should have been approved by ordinance of the Hebron Town Commission, a formal step that was not taken. “As a result, the approval is invalid and must be reversed,” Judge Davis wrote.
The battle against the project has been led by Hebron residents including Thomas J. Mumford III, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, as well as Friends of the Nanticoke and other groups.
King Burnett, attorney for the local residents, said Hebron’s small sewage treatment plant and the nearby county schools did not have nearly enough capacity to handle growth of this magnitude.
“The town touted this as ‘smart growth.’ But smart growth is when you have available services,” Burnett said. In this case, the town had “no police, no schools, no sewer, and no water” to deal with 1,500 additional homes.
Erik Fisher, a land-use planner for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said that rain washing over the parking lots in the project’s big-box commercial development, as well as the rooftops, streets and driveways in the residential section, could have contaminated Rewastico Creek.
“You are looking at increased temperature of water running into the creek, which is bad for the fish,” said Fisher. “The motor oil and other stuff in the parking lots could make its way into the creek. The localized effects on this small and fragile tributary could be severe.”
(Photo at top from T.J. and Fran Mumford)