- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
A bill introduced last week during the 433rd Maryland legislative session aims to repeal the Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act of 2012 in its entirety.
Lead sponsor Del. Michael A. McDermott (R-Wicomico, Worcester) introduced House Bill 106, which has 24 other sponsors, including Del. Mark N. Fisher (R-Calvert), last week in the Environmental Matters Committee for its first reading.
The Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act, also known as the septic bill or Tier Act, was signed into Maryland law last May and went into effect Oct. 1, 2012. It requires local jurisdictions to place all of their land in one of four tiers in order to limit major residential subdivisions with septic systems in the most rural tier. The law applies only to residential subdivisions, and the tiers establish where those major and minor subdivisions may be located and what type of sewerage system can serve them.
Fisher said Monday night that the septic bill and PlanMaryland “work together to effectively steal the property rights of the citizens of Maryland … by telling the citizens that the state now controls zoning and by telling the citizens that septic systems are the problem when we know that wastewater treatment plants are literally dumping filth into the river and septic systems are not. [Septic systems are] responsible for about 1 percent of the nitrogen in the [Chesapeake] Bay and rivers. Wastewater treatment plants are dumping raw crap into the rivers and bay.”
He explained that the state should focus its efforts on “fixing once and for all the wastewater treatment plants” because “wastewater treatment plants are dumping millions and millions of gallons of raw sewage, including pharmaceuticals and other horrible things, into the bay and its tributaries.”
Fisher explained that research shows that properly maintained septic systems are the “environmentally responsible way” for disposing of human waste.
“Even when a wastewater treatment plant is operating and it’s not dumping the raw sewage, it’s still not as environmentally sensitive as a septic system,” he said, adding that “It’s critical that people know, government runs these wastewater treatment plants, and government is the big polluter.”
Sen. Thomas “Mac” Middleton (D-Charles), who was heavily involved in reworking the bill last year to ensure zoning authority remained with local governments, said Monday that he doesn’t want to spend time “undoing” what has been done and all the work that went into the law.
“I don’t think there’s a very good chance it will be repealed,” he said.
The proposed bill is currently in the Environmental Matters Committee chaired by Del. Maggie McIntosh (D-Baltimore City), who cosponsored the septic bill and who will decide where the proposed legislation will go.
Middleton said he would be interested in making modifications to the septic bill during this legislative session, “… but an outright appeal, no, I’m not.” He noted that portions of the law have been giving local jurisdictions a “hard time” because of vagueness and the “aggressive” tier mapping deadline.
On Jan. 7, during a Calvert County Farm Bureau legislative dinner, Director of the Calvert County Department of Community Planning and Building Chuck Johnston said a third of the counties in the state have already had their tier maps approved by the Maryland Department of Planning, another third are still working on it and the remaining third are “taking their sweet ole time.” He added that Calvert is in that last category.
In Calvert County, where the definitions of major and minor residential subdivisions were changed prior to the law’s Dec. 31, 2012, deadline, a tier map has yet to be adopted. A joint public hearing with the Calvert County Board of County Commissioners and the Calvert County Planning Commission is scheduled for Jan. 29 to hear testimony about the proposed tier maps.
Over the past year, many county officials have expressed that they feel the law is undoing many of the preservation efforts Calvert has implemented over the years; however, the county has been complying with the law’s regulations.
Last July, when the BOCC had its first taste of the septic bill, then-Commissioners’ President Gerald W. “Jerry” Clark (R) said the state mandate will “put what we’ve done in complete disarray.”
Staff writer Jeff Newman contributed to this report.