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Discharge Into Stream Can Continue While Carroll County Appeals Order

Carroll County does not have to shut down a waste-water treatment plant on Piney Run while it appeals a ruling that it violated the Clean Water Act, a federal judge in Baltimore has ruled.Senior U.S. District Judge Joseph H. Young granted the county’s motion to stay the injunction he had ordered in February, saying that he meant to take no further action until the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals had resolved the appeal. The injunction orders Carroll County to stop discharging heated water into Piney Run from its Hampstead Wastewater Treatment Plant. The Piney Run Preservation Association claims the temperature change is killing trout downstream of the plant, which is located near the Baltimore County border.Last month, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied the county’s motion to stay the injunction while the appeal was pending. The three-sentence order triggered motions by the association to enforce the injunction and to cite the county for contempt, as well as the county’s motion to stay the injunction.Monday, Young said he had conveyed his intention to stay the injunction in letters to counsel in March.“[The association’s] motion to enforce the injunction makes it clear that the parties did not understand the effect of those letters,” the judge wrote. “In view of this misunderstanding, I have denied the plaintiff’s motion to enforce and granted the defendant’s motion to stay.”Linda S. Woolf, an attorney representing Carroll County, said her client never had any doubt that the injunction was stayed — or that Young retained jurisdiction.“The county maintained all along that the district court had in fact stayed the injunction back in March, as was pretty clearly stated in the judge’s letter,” Woolf said.“This is actually the second bit of good news the county has received,” Woolf added. “In early August, the [Maryland Department of Natural Resources] reported that they found healthy brown trout in locations where they were never observed before, not far from the plant’s discharge.”The results show that the county’s “hard work to improve the condition of the stream is paying off, that the trout and other fish populations are healthy — that the stream is healthy,” Woolf said.Rain and pressureBut the association’s lawyer, G. Macy Nelson, maintains that whatever condition now exists has everything to do with the association’s pressure on the county — and no bearing on the strict liability issues in this case.“The Clean Water Act is a strict liability statute,” Nelson said. “Which means I don’t have to prove environmental harm, I only have to prove a violation of the law — which I’ve already done.”Even so, he adds, the stream has been harmed.“They’ve benefited from a cool and wet summer,” he added. “But if these people had complied with the law there should be more trout.”Nelson also expressed confidence in his client’s case on appeal. “My client won this case and we are hopeful that we can persuade the 4th Circuit that Judge Young correctly granted our request for injunctive relief, our request for penalties and our request for reasonable fees and expenses,” Nelson said.The association filed suit in 1998 to stop the discharge of heated water from the plant. In February, Young fined the county $400,000 for 290 violations of the Clean Water Act, and enjoined it from discharging effluent into Piney Run “at temperatures that exceed the higher of the 20 C or the ambient stream temperature” until the Maryland Department of Environment modifies its existing permit or issues a new one that complies “with all relevant federal and state standards.”The parties have yet to argue their cases before the 4th Circuit. Nelson said the appeals court is still considering whether to accept “five or six” amicus briefs filed on the county’s behalf by “every big company between here and Richmond.”