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$1.28B plan to clean bay draws Planning Commission concern

By MEGHAN RUSSELLStaff writer

The Calvert County Planning Commission’s criticism of a federally mandated Chesapeake Bay cleanup plan echoes concerns also expressed previously by the county commissioners — mainly, that the $1.28 billion cost to Calvert is too extreme for a plan about which they have doubts.

Last Wednesday, Calvert County Environmental Planner David Brownlee presented to the commission what Calvert is expected and proposing to do to meet total maximum daily loads of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment as required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. All other jurisdictions in the state and other states in the bay’s watershed must create a watershed implementation plan (WIP) to meet the requirements of reducing these nutrient loads by 70 percent by 2017 and by 100 percent by 2025.

“We need to turn the tide on pollution and we have made some progress, however, growth continues to set us back,” Brownlee said, citing the reason for the federal mandate.

It is expected to cost the county more than five times its annual budget, however, making Calvert’s WIP the second highest cost per budget in Maryland, second only to Frederick County, which has to cough up nine times its budget to implement the plan, Brownlee said.

According to the model used by the EPA and Maryland Department of the Environment to calculate expected load reductions, Calvert must reduce nitrogen pollution by 120,000 pounds. “That’s our largest requirement. That is significant,” Brownlee said.

To achieve this, the county will have to spend $152 million on replacing 12,673 septic systems with nitrogen-removing systems. Right now, the county only replaces about 60 per year using “flush tax” money from the Bay Restoration Fund, he said. Legislation is currently underway to double that fund, which Brownlee said will help, though even with extra funding the county will not meet its 2017 goal. It would meet the 2025 goal, however, he said.

In addition to septic system replacement, Brownlee said the county proposes to complete upgrades to the Chesapeake Beach Wastewater Treatment Plant and consider upgrades to the Northern High School Wastewater Treatment Plant, along with connecting the Naval Research Laboratory treatment plant to the Chesapeake Beach treatment plant. The county also proposes connecting numerous septic systems to wastewater treatment plants, like in the Calvert County Industrial Park and connecting Cove Point and the Dominion Cove Point LNG plant to the Solomons Wastewater Treatment Plant.

“These are sort of just out there as possibilities,” Brownlee said.

Furthermore, the county will have to step up its stormwater management practices, including shore erosion control, creating wet ponds and constructing rain gardens or micro-bioretention systems on about 1,250 single-family residential lots, to meet its goals.

But like the commissioners, the planning commissioners questioned the model’s effectiveness. Bill Glascock and Vice Chairman Michael Phipps pointed out that Calvert has a small population and yet, based on the model, has to pay more than other jurisdictions to clean the bay.

“If we don’t have that many people, why do we have so much?” Phipps asked. “I’m not so sure the model is right.”

“Some counties are contributing twice as much as we are and only have to take out half as much,” Glascock said, adding that the estimated cost per citizen would be about $14,000, while the estimated cost per citizen in Prince George’s County is just $903. “That doesn’t strike me as being equitable.”

Phipps said he found a rusting pipe tainting some water running along his property once. He suggested the county work with citizens to get them more involved with monitoring their properties, which he said might be more effective than the “shotgun approach to satisfy a model. ... It just seems to me there should be some more common sense.”

But by not meeting the federal goals, Calvert could be refused state and federal funding in the future, Brownlee said. Some funding possibilities include the flush tax, the county’s stormwater grant fund, state and federal grants, tax incentives for residents who decrease their impervious surfaces or install rain gardens and raising local taxes, among others, though he stressed, “We’ve told the state we cannot meet the goals. We cannot tax individuals at this rate.”

Other counties have expressed similar sentiments, he said, adding state and federal funding for the WIP is a necessity for meeting the 2025 goals.

From here, the plan returns to the county commissioners for another work session March 6, goes to a public forum in April and goes to a public hearing in May. The county has until June to submit final changes.

Regarding the amount of public concern anticipated at the upcoming forum, Planning Commission Chairman Maurice Lusby said, “We may need a bigger building.”

mrussell@somdnews.com