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Town gets approval for $7 million in grants for first phase of sewer upgrades

by Geoff Fox

State environmental grants will pay for a large portion of Hancock’s long-planned wastewater treatment plant. Town Manager Joe Gilbert announced grants for construction of the future plant have been approved by the Maryland Department of Environment.

Gilbert said the funding was for between $7.3 and $7.8 million for construction of the facility. The town will continue to seek grant funding for the rest of the upgrades to the sewer system, which includes sewer lines, pump stations, and service lines.

Notification of the grants came two weeks ago.

Previous designs for an upgraded plant placed the costs for the town at between $12 million and $14 million.

Gilbert submitted an infrastructure grant application through the state.

When contacting the federal government about assistance in funding the treatment plant, Gilbert said he was told if the USDA were to put up money for the treatment plant, they’d have to also look at the entire system.

“According to USDA guidelines, they could fund up to 75% of the project and Hancock could use state funds as our match to the USDA,” Gilbert said. The $7.8 million is the town’s match.

Gilbert has written a request for price proposal and has received responses from five engineering firms to do predevelopment of the engineering work for the rest of the system with a deadline of May 5.

Those reports will then lead the project being awarded to the chosen bidder, with a preliminary engineering report due in September or October.

“Then the whole round starts over again that I go look for money to pay for the construction of the rest of the system,” Gilbert said. “Then I will team that up with the MDE money.”

Construction, Gilbert said, could start Summer 2021.

He is estimating the town could see a total cost estimate for the wastewater system upgrade hit over $30 million.

Gilbert said he couldn’t guarantee the project won’t cost the taxpayers of Hancock anything, but he’s “doing everything I can to make sure that the cost to Hancock itself is as low as I can possibly get it.”

Rate increases for customers are often put in place when a public sewer system has significant upgrades.

When town officials award contracts for construction next winter, Gilbert said there’s a requirement for a degree of local hire, meaning the town will ask firms to hire up to 20% of their project team from the local area.

The new treatment facility will be located at the current site of the town’s lagoon treatment facility, with other component of the system being upgraded throughout town, as water mains, lines and pumps need repaired or replaced.

This entire project has been designed in three phases, Gilbert said.

The first phase is the wastewater system. The second phase of fresh water will run almost concurrently as the wastewater system.

Once the dust settles from those projects, Gilbert said he would be focusing on stormwater infrastructure to include hazard and flood mitigation.

Gilbert said people need to understand that long-term economic growth is built on infrastructure.

He said jobs, businesses, and industrial business like Harvest and LanCo Pennland, are reliant on infrastructure.

“Without water and wastewater, you can’t grow,” Gilbert said. “This is the ground floor mechanism for economic growth in Hancock.”

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Hancock’s lagoon wastewater treatment system will be upgraded with recent MDE grants totaling more than $7 million.

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