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SALISBURY, Md. (AP)- A rash of sewage spills in the Wicomico River has prompted Salisbury Mayor Barrie Parsons Tilghman to launch a task force to investigate.

Reports filed with the Maryland Department of the Environment show that nearly 1 million gallons of sewage have leaked from the city's treatment plant since 2005. An $80 million expansion of the treatment plant is expected to open next month, but the frequency of spills has increased this year to at least four.

Tilghman has said she takes every spill very seriously and decided to assemble this task force on the urging of the Wicomico Environmental Trust. The group's first meeting is Oct. 28.

Task force chairman Peter Bozick Jr., is a civil engineer who has helped design municipal sewage plants in Ocean City, Fruitland, Princess Anne, Georgetown and Seaford.

"The crux of what we're doing is to get the information the Maryland Department of the Environment has on all the spills and then to somehow prioritize and evaluate under some criteria," Bozick said.

Bozick said he also wants to also explore the environmental implications of sewage spills. He hopes to issue a report within three months.

However, the task force already has critics.

Salisbury Councilwoman Debbie Campbell wonders why the task force was formed if the city already has its own engineering staff.

"What the heck is going on that this information isn't coming out from our own Public Works Department?" Campbell asked. She said the city should be focused on debris from another source: new piping funneling stormwater runoff from Route 13 to the river, which isn't equipped to catch floatables.

Jim Ireton, a Salisbury resident often critical of Tilghman's administration, said the task force will only tell the city what it already knows.

Public Works Director Jim Caldwell declined to say what planning went into the prevention of potential spills during the plant's upgrade. Tilghman has previously said that because the plant is operating at full capacity during the upgrade, the odds of a mechanical failure increase when new working parts are launched.
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