OCEAN CITY — With upgrades to the Mystic Harbour wastewater and water treatment plants ongoing, the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) has fined Worcester County $25,000 and set a deadline for upgrades no later than Aug. 31.

Worcester isn’t taking the fines with a smile, however, with County Commission President Bud Church calling the action by the state a “money grab” and accusing MDE of going on a “witch hunt.”

“The state is well aware that we are putting a state-of-the-art, new sewer system in [Mystic Harbour] that exceeds the standards that are required … There have been some delays but for the state to fine us that $25,000 is just absurd. And I feel very comfortable in saying it’s nothing more than a money grab,” he said.

The current system is held together “with duct tape and bubblegum,” admitted Church. However, he argued that Worcester has been sincere in its efforts to upgrade the plant in an acceptable timeframe.

“We’re still in the process of getting that online, getting that to where it’s 100 percent compliant,” he said.

Worcester, and the Eastern Shore in general, is often unfairly targeted by state agencies, claimed Church.

“It would be interesting to see why they haven’t fined some other jurisdictions in the other metropolitan areas that may have had much worse cases than we’ve had but that’s the way it is in the state,” he said.

The original fine MDE asked for when it entered into a Consent Order with the commissioners on Jan. 7 was significantly higher than the final $25,000 that Worcester will be required to pay, according to Church. Still, he viewed it as MDE trying to nickel and dime counties.

“I think they’re looking for every place in the world that they can fine a municipality, a county government, anyone they can go out there and pick up $25,000 here and $50,000 there,” he said. “I think they’re on a witch hunt for big money.”

Along with the fine, all upgrades to the Mystic Harbour wastewater treatment plant must be completed by Aug. 31. Church expects Worcester to meet the deadline as long as Mother Nature plays along.

“It all depends on the weather,” he said. “It’s been non-stop rain and it’s very hard to put in a sewer plant when it’s raining an inch or two once or twice a week. But I think with a little better weather we’ll be fine.”

The fine go into the state’s Clean Water Fund.