CENTREVILLE — Topics at the Centreville Town Council meeting Thursday, Nov. 21, included sound quality in the meeting room, Josh Shonts’ eligibility for his elected council seat, the council of five transition plan, and continued citizen concern over arsenic levels in drinking water.
During public comment at the beginning of the meeting, Louis Armstrong of Centreville, 78, reminded the council that Maryland’s sunshine law asserts a citizen’s right to know what’s going on with their council.
“We can’t hear what’s going on up to this point in the meeting,” Armstrong said. He asked all speakers to speak directly into the directional microphones.
While Armstrong’s complaint brought a few chuckles from the audience, Councilman Tim McCluskey said he had reached out to George Harvey of QAC-TV to inquire about streaming the council meetings to the internet, a suggestion that has been made by residents. Such coverage is being explored in the coming year and would allow for recording of the council’s proceedings using appropriate audiovisual technology and equipment.
Council Vice President Jeff Morgan reported the council had received formal communication from the Maryland State Board of Elections confirming that Josh Shonts had officially filed an appeal to his voter registration change. Shonts’ Facebook page confirmed this status. “State board of elections appeal hearing scheduled for December 12,” Shonts posted. “Stay tuned.”
McCluskey presented a draft plan for an ad hoc committee to present options for a transition from three to five council members. The current council members each nominated two people to serve on the committee. Several residents noted their concern over the timeline in which this feedback would be received.
Dan Worth, one of the Council of Five organizers, reviewed the milestones of the grassroots effort dating back to February 2019 when an online petition was initiated. Worth noted the events leading up to the Oct. 7 election in which the council of five referendum received overwhelming support.
“Why didn’t the council begin working on solutions prior to this point?” he asked.
Elaine Studley, author of the Council of Five petition, said she was concerned that the committee members identified did not reflect the diversity of the town.
Only four of the six committee members were named at the meeting. Council President Jim Beauchamp was absent, so his appointees have not been named.
After discussion, McCluskey and Morgan voted for the committee to adhere to the Maryland Open Meetings Act, to present to the council at least five options for potential transition plans (to include districting, how to run the election, election cycle changes if any, etc.), and to provide an opportunity for public comments. They agreed the committee should elect a chairperson and announce a meeting schedule at their first meeting.
A significant portion of public comment time was used to discuss ongoing water quality concerns.
Northbrook resident Alicia Palmer inquired about the town’s implementation of its water system. “How did the town come to implement its water system,” she asked. “Did the town do their research?”
Centreville Director of Public Works Kip Matthews said the town used the state’s revolving loan fund for one water plant, while the Northbrook developer paid for the plant there. Both plants had to be completed by state-licensed engineers, and all work had to be submitted to, and approved by, the Maryland Department of the Environment.
Palmer said the arsenic level in the water at her house measured 54 parts per billion. “We may or may not see the health results of arsenic poisoning for 15 years or more. People are now betting on starting to see health issues in our community,” she said.
Palmer said she hired Chesapeake Environmental, a state-certified lab, to test her water independently on Oct. 31. When the results came back at 54 ppb, she said she was told by the lab not to drink the water.
“I have had conversations with a representative from MDE,” Northbrook resident Anne McCauley said. ”This rep has told me that they have biologists and engineers that could’ve been used back in August. Why were they not utilized?”
Morgan stressed that the town is waiting for an official report from MDE.
“I find it concerning that MDE would have judgments that it has not shared with the town council. Our commitment is to host a work session at which MDE and the residents of Centreville can be present to ask questions and hear the facts. This will take place as soon as the official report comes back,” Morgan said.
McCauley told Matthews she believed he had the town’s best interests at heart, but asked, “Why are the parts per billion increasing over time?”
The town has a demonstrated history of both regular water testing and communicating the results of such with its residents.
In August 2003, the MDE Water Management Administration produced a report entitled, “Source Water Assessment for Community Water Systems in Queen Anne’s County, Maryland.” According to this report, “the source of Centreville‘s water supply is the Aquia aquifer, a naturally protected, confined aquifer of the Atlantic Coastal Plain physiographic province.”
At that time Centreville had two wells in the Aquia aquifer (wells 4 and 5), along with a third that was in the development stages (the well that would become Northbrook’s, well 6). This report found that Centreville‘s water supply is not susceptible to land surface contaminants due to the confined aspect of the aquifers. However, as a naturally occurring contaminant, arsenic was found to pose a risk to the water supply. Arsenic levels at that time were determined to be within the legal limits as prescribed by the Environmental Protection Agency and Food and Drug Administration.
On Jan. 23, 2006, the EPA decreased the amount of arsenic acceptable in drinking water from 50 ppb to 10 ppb.
In 2006, Maryland Environmental Service produced a drinking water quality report for the Town of Centreville. In it, wells 4 and 5 had maximum arsenic level detection ranges of 27 to 31 parts per billion and 25 to 28 ppb, respectively (test performed 2005). Levels in Northbrook were lower with a maximum arsenic level detected at 17 ppb (test performed in 2003).
In the 2006 report, the town provided residents with information about the risks of arsenic exposure. Due to the arsenic levels being noted at that time, Centreville announced its plan to construct a second treatment plant to help reduce the arsenic levels in the system to less than 10 ppb).
Centreville’s arsenic levels have remained within EPA’s established limits for years.
Centreville’s 2018 annual drinking water quality report, released May 2019, provided arsenic detection level data for wells 5 and 6. In this report, 1 ppb was the highest arsenic level detected.