Governor O’Malley Wades Into Septic Tank Battle

10 Mar

March 10, 2011 – In Maryland, Gov. Martin O’Malley is stepping further into the debate over one of his top legislative priorities for this year: banning septic tanks in new developments.

Maryland Governor 'Wades' Into Septic Tank Battle
Gov. O’Malley in Lake Bonnie, receiving reports on its water quality from members of the State’s Department of the Environment.

The town of Goldsboro is near Maryland’s border with Delaware, and many of its homes and buildings have septic tanks. Just outside of town, tucked behind the trees, is Lake Bonnie. Fifteen years ago, it was closed to swimmers because of pollution, much of which comes from septic tanks in Goldsboro.

Swimming is still banned today, but that did not stop O’Malley (D) from wading into the lake with members of the state’s Department of the Environment as they tested its water quality.

O’Malley is pushing a bill that would ban septic tanks at all new large developments in the state, saying that will slow pollution even as population in Maryland continues to grow.

“We can’t assume that Mother Nature is always capable of healing herself, if we load onto her so much more nitrogen load than any natural system can absorb itself,” he says.

Opponents feel the plan will lead to a building moratorium, particularly on the Eastern Shore, where septic tanks are common and new housing developments pop up regularly.

O’Malley counters by saying the state’s total nitrogen load will increase 36 percent over the next 25 years, at a time when federal regulators have said the state must reduce nitrogen in its environment by 21 percent by 2020.


Septic Bill Hearings on Friday, March 11!

8 Mar

Come out to Annapolis on Fri. to show support for the septic legislation! The Governor will be testifying and the hearings are open to the public, just make sure to be there early to get a seat!

Governor O’Malley To Wade In Polluted Waters To Illustrate Need For Septic Leg.

8 Mar

March 7, 2011

Governor to wade in pollution as part of septic pushAs prospects dim for an overhaul this year of the state’s septic system laws, Gov. Martin O’Malley is trying a new approach: He’s going in.

Aides to the Democratic governor announced today that O’Malley will wade into a polluted lake Wednesday on the Eastern Shore to highlight the ills of septic systems.

O’Malley has been pushing to curb septic pollution by banning such systems in new large-scale developments. But the leader of the House of Delegates committee considering his proposal suggested a study instead. Del. Maggie McIntosh, a Baltimore Democrat, said she was concerned that a ban would disproportionately affect counties where most housing is built with on-site sewage treatment.

The water works will take place Wednesday afternoon on Lake Bonnie in Goldsboro, where “high bacteria levels have been linked to failing septic systems,” according to the adminsitration’s release.

O’Malley spokesman Shaun Adamec says this is no toe-dip. He’ll be donning fisherman-like waders and going “far enough to make the point.”

In the release, the administration says 411,00 of the 426,000 septic systems in the state are on residential parcels. Goldsboro, it says, “has suffered from more than a decade with the problems of septic systems, and the town has endured water pollution and financial and legal difficulties as a result.”

Governor O’Malley Works With Farmers To Change Septic Bill

8 Mar

Gov. Martin O’Malley has encountered opposition from both parties in his push to require high-end septic systems for new developments, but he’s drafted a compromise to salvage the bill and even plans to wade into a polluted lake at midweek to draw attention to the issue.

O’Malley’s plan to require new developments in rural Maryland to install top-grade septics systems hit a bump last week after rural lawmakers protested and a House leader suggested studying the issue for a year before passing any legislation. While the measure is targeted largely at developers, who rely on septic systems which leach nitrogen into the Chesapeake Bay, it also would limit how farmers peel off parcels of their land.

The septics bill would only allow farmers to divide their land into parcels once _ a measure environmentalists say is designed to keep developers from skirting septic requirements by getting farmers to gradually sell them land over time.

However, amendments crafted by the governor would allow farmers to split their land four times, but only for family members, not for sale to developers. It would also allow farmers to divide their land for other, non-residential means, like building a winery or dairy operation.

A document outlining the amendments was obtained by The Associated Press.

O’Malley met for more than an hour Thursday morning with farmers, farm credit analysts and Agriculture Secretary Earl “Buddy” Hance.

The governor distributed copies of the amendments to the group and told them they would have much of the summer to talk about the issue, said Val Connelly, lobbyist for the Maryland Farm Bureau who attended the meeting.

“The impression the farm community got was we have time to discuss our concerns,” she said.

O’Malley would like to see the bill passed this year, to start addressing nitrogen runoff into the Bay, but has always said he wants an open debate on the issue, said Hance.

“What matters is it’s done right, not done quickly,” Hance said.

House Environmental Matters Committee chair Maggie McIntosh told O’Malley last week she wants to send the bill to a summer study committee. While Republican lawmakers have largely lambasted the proposal, a group of rural Democrats also filed their concerns with McIntosh last month.

While O’Malley has given high-profile play to the septics issue _ he plans to wade into a lake polluted by septic systems Wednesday _ he has consistently hinted the issue might be dead this year. O’Malley is scheduled on Wednesday to wade into Lake Bonnie in Goldsboro on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. The lake has been closed to swimming, to demonstrate pollution concerns due to septic systems.

O’Malley first announced his support for the septics proposal in his State of the State address last month, surprising environmentalists and developers. And while he has lobbied for the proposal, including holding a news conference in the same room where he met with farmers, he never formally added his name to the septics bills.

“Often, a bill of this size takes multiple years,” said Kim Coble, Maryland executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Trust Fund. “It would have been great to do it one year. But I am not surprised nor am I disappointed that it will take multiple years.”

Posted: Monday, March 7, 2011 6:31 pm | Updated: 12:18 pm, Tue Mar 8, 2011.

Baltimore Sun Says Septic Legislation Still Alive

7 Mar

Septic curb not dead yetIn recent years, the Maryland General Assembly has approved legislation curbing power plant emissions, agreed to impose stricter standards on automobile emissions and gave environmental groups standing to legally contest government-issued permits and variances. What do all these decisions have in common?

All are important environmental initiatives, but more to the point, all required more than one 90-day session to pass. In the case of legal standing, it took a decade worth of legislative sessions before lawmakers worked out a compromise that satisfied a majority.

That’s important to keep in mind with Gov. Martin O’Malley’s proposal to restrict the proliferation of septic systems in Maryland. As expected, the legislation has run into stiff opposition from rural lawmakers, advocates for the real estate industry, farmers and others who fear its potentially chilling impact on the economy.

Baltimore Del. Maggie McIntosh, chairwoman of the House Environmental Matters Committee, believes the legislation would be best served if put to a task force of experts and interested parties to look at all aspects of the issue. Typically, such a group would make recommendations between now and next fall for the 2012 session on how best to rewrite the bill.

Some may be tempted to chalk that up as a loss for Mr. O’Malley, particularly as the bill’s first hearing is still a week away. But one suspects Delegate McIntosh, a reliable ally to environmental causes, is thinking much more strategically. Better to rework the legislation than allow opponents to vilify its intent — and potentially doom its long-term prospects.

Make no mistake, Maryland can’t continue to ignore the pollution produced by septic tanks — at least not if the state intends to be serious about cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay. A house on septic produces 10 times as much nitrogen as one hooked up to a wastewater treatment system that is typically available around cities and towns.

Septics certainly aren’t a primary source of pollution to the bay, but they are a growing threat. It’s not unreasonable to insist on higher standards for them — or to encourage developers to use less polluting alternatives.

Mr. O’Malley seemed to concede this point in a recent letter to Delegate McIntosh when he acknowledged that “pulling together stakeholders” was a good idea and was ready to work with her. But given the timing (the bill was delivered relatively late, and the session is down to its final six weeks), it’s hard to see such a major undertaking accomplished before sine die on April 11.

But that’s not a tragedy. The stakes are far higher than however many septic tanks will be installed between now and 2012. This is about the tens of thousands of septic tanks that are likely to proliferate between now and 2035 and beyond.

Opponents have expressed some reasonable concerns about the bill. If, for instance, the state bans large subdivisions from using septic systems, might that only result in builders creating more mini-developments with only a handful of homes that are exempt from the legislation? In theory, that could cause more harm than good.

The governor is welcome to fight for his bill this session all he wants, but Delegate McIntosh has a pretty good track record on environmental initiatives, too. Better to get a carefully-considered measure passed in 2012 then exhaust political capital pushing legislation that has little chance of passage in 2011.

Governor’s Septics Proposal – Heading for Study? Or Showdown?

7 Mar

Today’s Baltimore Sun discusses the “roadblock” facing the Governor’s proposed limits on septic-based development, as the Chair of the House’s Environmental Matters Committee has suggested that the bill be referred for more complete study over the interim. However, contrary to some earlier reports (and the discussion at MACo’s Legislative Committee yesterday), it now appears that the Governor will continue to press for the bill’s passage in this year’s legislative session.

From the Sun coverage:

Del. Maggie McIntosh, head of the House Environmental Matters Committee, wrote O’Malley earlier this week saying that while she agreed with him on the need for tighter curbs on sprawl and on “the proliferation of septic systems,” she was worried the measure would disproportionately affect some counties where most housing is built with on-site sewage treatment.

McIntosh, a Baltimore city Democrat, said she believed the septic limits proposed in the bill needed to be paired with “initiatives that assist farms and rural counties,” two of the constituencies that have complained loudly that the legislation would impoverish them and stifle virtually all growth. McIntosh urged O’Malley to name a task force including those groups, developers and other critics and hash out how septic curbs fit into larger efforts to restore the Chesapeake Bay and preserve farmland from sprawling development.

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O’Malley answered with a letter of his own defending his proposal, while acknowledging, “We need to collectively look at what works in Maryland to address these issues.”

But Shaun Adamec, the governor’s press secretary, said O’Malley stands by the bill he had introduced and intends to testify in support of it at the hearing scheduled March 11 before McIntosh’s committee. And while McIntosh’s desire to study the issue may prevent it from getting out of her committee, Adamec said the governor has not given up on trying to win her and critics over to the need to do something about septics this year — even if it’s a more limited measure.

“Something clearly is better than nothing, but it’s still very much the governor’s intention to outline specifically why it’s so important to take drastic action now,” the governor’s spokesman said.

(An earlier version of this story incorrectly interpreted O’Malley’s letter and earlier remarks by his press secretary to say the governor had yielded to McIntosh’s call for study and would not push for passage of the bill this year.)

MACo has expressed concerns with the far-reaching bill (introduced on the Administration’s behalf as HB 1107 and SB 846, and the Legislative Committee voted yesterday to formally oppose it, even as a study referral seemed imminent.

In the Washington Post, from earlier in the day Wednesday, the Governor’s apparent tone was more conciliatory:

One of Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley’s only new legislative priorities for the year — a ban on most new septic systems — will not be passed into law during this legislative session, the governor all but conceded on Tuesday.

Responding to a call from a key Democratic lawmaker who said the proposal should be studied further, O’Malley’s office released a letter saying the governor agrees “we need to collectively look at what works in Maryland to address these issue … this should include your ideas for pulling together stakeholders.”

The apparent end of the effort to pass the proposal this year was nearly as quiet as its beginning.

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4 Mar