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(Enlarge) Starting April 1, several public meetings will be held on the countywide comprehensive zoning review, during which 327 properties could have their zoning upgraded. Signs were posted recently on those properties, including this one off the Hickory Bypass.

The Harford County government broke ground Thursday on a major expansion of its Abingdon Water Treatment Plant, one of its largest public works projects ever.

The $70 million expansion will double the plant’s capacity by 2011.

“Water is 90 percent of our body. Water is 90 percent of our universe,” County Executive David Craig said during a ceremony at the plant. “Water is the key building block of the economy. Without water, nothing happens. Many people take it for granted. In a sense, this is a quality of life situation for Harford County.”

The Abingdon Water Treatment Plant expansion project will increase its capacity from 10 million gallons a day to 20 million gallons a day.

“Our motto is ‘preserving Harford’s past, promoting Harford’s future,’” Craig said. “Our purpose here today really reflects that second part.”

The Harford County Board of Estimates awarded the $61,847,000 construction contract to Pizzagalli Construction Company of South Burlington, Vt. in November 2008. More than $3.5 million will be used for program management, inspection and testing and more than $3 million will be used for project design and construction services.

Total cost is estimated at $70 million, and more than 500 workers are expected to be involved in the construction.

“In hard economic times, we did very well on this project,” Craig said.

Craig also thanked the Harford County Council for its help providing funds for the project in the capital budget.

The project is expected to be completed Oct. 20, 2011, which is one month after full BRAC implementation at Aberdeen Proving Ground is expected to take place.

Craig said the expansion will “help meet demands for Harford County and prepare for BRAC.”

“We will continue to look at regional solutions for regional problems,” Craig said.

According to Craig, the number of existing water customers is more than 42,000. The current county water treatment capacity from all sources is 20.5 million gallons a day. At the end of the expansion, the total county water treatment capacity will be 30.5 million gallons a day.

In a brief interview after the groundbreaking, Craig said the expansion of the Abingdon Water Treatment Plant will take care of Harford County needs up to 2015.

“Water is the foundation of everything that gets done,” Craig said. “It [the plant] paves the way for any future development and it’s coming on line the same time as BRAC.”

Abingdon is the largest of the county’s water treatment facilities, and the plant’s expansion is expected to play a role in increasing water supplies for the City of Aberdeen, which has had difficulty developing more capacity on its own.

Bob Cooper, director of public works, said the first phase of the Abingdon Water Treatment plant was completed in 1994. Since then, the customer base has grown.

“We are planning for the future and future growth beyond this,” Cooper said.

According to Cooper, the plant will be able to draw water from two different sources, the Susquehanna River and Baltimore City’s reservoir system.

“On normal days, it will draw water from the Loch Raven Reservoir and in times of drought, it will be pumped out of the Susquehanna River,” Cooper said.

Cooper also said the expansion will require the participation of the county’s three municipalities, Aberdeen, Bel Air and Havre de Grace, Baltimore City, the Maryland Department of Transportation and the Maryland Department of the Environment.

“They’ve all been very important to us working together and getting the project moving,” Cooper said.

The project will also include a 115-inch tunnel under Interstate 95, which will connect to the current 108-inch pipeline from the Susquehanna River that is owned by Baltimore City.

“It’s a good-sized operation and a yearlong process in itself,” Cooper said.

Cooper also said there will be up to 600 workers directly involved in the construction process.

“We’re stimulating our own economy,” he said. “This is a major project, one of the largest, if not the largest, we’ve done here in Harford County.”

Cooper also wanted to ensure the public there is an “excellent team” working on the project.

“Our team is an excellent team and they’re going to get the benefits of having an excellent team working for us,” Cooper said.

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