Bull Lips Dock Bar and The Clean Water Act
Through our Creekwatcher water testing program with Salisbury University and other programs, the Wicomico Environmental Trust works to safeguard the health of the Wicomico River Watershed, both the waters on which our local watermen and farmers depend and the drinking water of our many local communities. We note recent social media complaints from the Bull Lips Dock Bar and its owner, the Red Roost, about being prevented by the County Health Officer from reopening this year thus far. We believe it is important for the public to have more complete information about the situation and for the situation to be appropriately addressed in accordance with the laws that apply to all businesses and residents in the Critical Area bordering the river.
WET recently became aware of the issue upon filing a Public Information Act request on septic issues at the site, when we heard reports of raw sewage near the Red Roost. That issue, due to a septic system malfunction on April 15 of this year, was immediately remedied by the owners to the satisfaction of the Health Department. However, public records also showed that the owners have been discussing Bull Lips septic issues since at least 2017 with officials of the Department of Health and the Department of the Environment. Those documents and documents from other public sources (available at https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/19tlS3uCIAK1FdNgyUPIKAGhcX2cN2t9z?usp=sharing ) show that:
- The owners were informed as early as May 2017, when their permit to operate Bull Lips was granted, that it was temporary and would expire in 36 months. This was because the current setup is inconsistent with the laws that the Department of Health is obligated to enforce [the federal Clean Water Act and related Maryland regulations]. The 36-month grace period was to be used to install a septic system near the Red Roost connected by pipe to Bull Lips, as the system cannot be installed in the dredge spoils on which Bull Lips is situated.
- The County Health Officer extended the operating permit through 2021 under a temporary events license exception but cautioned the owners several times that it could not be extended further. The County Health Officer also suggested repeatedly, including earlier this year, that a temporary food truck license could be granted to allow Bull Lips to reopen if an appropriate application were made. Therefore, although the County Health Officer is charged with enforcing the federal and state laws that apply here, the record shows that she has also offered, over the past several years, a series of temporary exceptions where available to keep the business in operation.
- The owners opted to seek a legislative exception through a bill, SB 854, introduced by Sen. Addie Eckhardt and Rep. Chris Adams in the General Assembly in February of this year. It did not pass in the last session, apparently for two primary reasons:
- The Maryland Conference of Local Environmental Health Directors strongly opposed the bill to permit the use of “graywater systems” in rural areas. The Health Directors expressed concern that the bill’s definition of graywater was “essentially describing sewage holding tanks and cisterns, not a graywater system at all,” and that it would include water from kitchen sinks and permit the use of cisterns or holding tanks for potable water use. Each of these provisions, they noted, would be inconsistent with Maryland’s current legal provisions on graywater, which are designed to protect public and environmental health.
- The bill was seen as designed to benefit a single business and was not supported by the entire Eastern Shore Delegation (although County Council President John Cannon and Acting County Executive John Psota did submit a letter of support).
The public record thus reflects that the owners have been on notice for more than five years that they would need to take steps to come into compliance with existing laws. Neither the federal and state laws that apply to this operation nor the positions of the Health Department and the Department of the Environment have changed.
WET is concerned that the only apparent reaction thus far has been to seek legislation that could put at risk the health and livelihoods of neighbors who depend on clean water and to attempt to create public pressure on our County Health Officer. We submit that this situation needs to be resolved instead in an appropriate manner consistent with all applicable laws protecting public and environment health in the Wicomico River Watershed.
For More Information, Contact WETpolicy@gmail.com.