Environmental Groups Challenge County MS4 Stormwater Permits

July 17, 2014

A July 11 Baltimore Sun B’More Green article reported that various in-state and out-of-state environmental groups have initiated lawsuits challenging the  National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Phase I Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) permits that the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) is issuing to certain counties.  The article noted that groups have challenged the permits for Baltimore City and Anne Arundel, Baltimore, and Prince George’s Counties.

The [environmental] groups argue that the state-issued permits are so vague they are unenforceable, and without more teeth they  will allow pollution problems to continue. The shortcomings will leave local waters unsafe to swim in and unable to support fish, crabs and shellfish, the groups contend, and will  hinder restoration of the Chesapeake Bay.

State officials have defended what they call “next generation” pollution-control permits that they say significantly strengthen storm-water cleanup efforts in Maryland’s largest communities. The permits require each locality to retrofit 20 percent of its streets, alleys, parking lots and buildings over the next five years to prevent polluted runoff. Local officials must develop “enforceable implementation plans” for meeting water-quality standards, according to a release on MDE’s website.

The groups argue that by leaving the details of what each locality must do until later, the state risks delays and shortcomings in reducing storm-water pollution, a significant and growing threat to cleaning up the bay.

These challenges follow a successful legal challenge brought last year against the MS4 permit that MDE issued to Montgomery County.  The circuit court found against MDE, citing the lack of specific benchmarks and deadlines.  The State has appealed the ruling to Maryland Court of Special Appeals and MACo will be participating in an amicus brief effort coordinated by the Maryland Municipal Stormwater Association (MAMSA) in support of the State’s position.  Decisions in the Montgomery County case, as well as the four more recent cases, will likely affect those counties needing Phase II MS4 permits from the State.

The article also noted a recent assessment by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is critical of Maryland’s stormwater management efforts:

The EPA said the state also was too shorthanded to keep tabs on localities’ efforts to reduce polluted runoff from existing buildings and pavement. And in a finding that appears to echo environmentalists’ complaints, the federal assessment called for state regulators to include “more-enforceable schedules” in the storm-water pollution permits it issues to localities.


Experimental Agricultural Stormwater Management System Yields Promising Results

July 10, 2014

While stormwater runoff management is primarily perceived as an urban issue, Maryland’s agricultural community also faces stormwater management requirements under the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load.  A July 2 Star Democrat article reported on the recent and favorable findings regarding an experimental agricultural stormwater management system.

After implementing an agricultural stormwater cascading system on his farm near Chestertown in 2011, new data shows that Samuel Owings’s self-constructed system is fulfilling its purpose to reduce agricultural runoff from flowing into the Hambleton Creek, Chester River and Chesapeake Bay.  …

The cascading system is a series of four basins that are between 35 to 45 feet wide and 120 to 170 feet long. Using grass seed, starter fertilizer, curlex and natural vegetation, the system is placed in a grass waterway and drainage ditch and begins at higher elevations and moves toward lower elevations with the last basin placed at the edge of an existing wetland and pond.

With the assistance of grant funding, University of Maryland graduate student and research assistant Rosie Myers completed half of a two-year analysis of the effectiveness of Owings cascading system.  Myers derived her conclusions based on collected data from nine storm events (about 1/3 of last year’s storm events for the Queen Anne’s County region where Owings’ farm is located).

Looking at all nine storm events, Myers said 64 percent of the water that entered the system did not leave, and cited an 11 percent reduction in nitrogen and a 5 percent reduction in phosphorus. She then excluded the two largest storm events from her data, and the system showed over a 95 percent efficiency rate, which she attributed to the large washouts re-suspending and discharging sediment and nutrients captured from earlier storms.

“If it can reduce the washouts from the basins, this can be a very efficient system,” Myers said.  …

The cascading system brings many benefits to agricultural environments, Owings said, as it uses little or no tillable land; traps and filters sediment, nitrogen and phosphorus; provides instant gratification; uses simplistic materials such as grass seed and starter fertilizer; replenishes groundwater; is easily replicated by other farmers; creates wildlife habitation; creates top soil as a byproduct; and recycles phosphorus by spreading it back on farm fields.

Attorney General Letter Likely Voids Bill on Stormwater Agreements, Hotels

May 21, 2014

The Attorney General has found that the language addressing alternative approaches for stormwater remediation fees in Carroll and Frederick Counties and a hotel rental tax in Harford County in Senate Bill 172, the Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act of 2014, are likely to be found unconstitutional because they violate the single subject rule. In his review for legal sufficiency, the Attorney General found the bill constitutional and legally sufficient, but raised a number of issues in a letter to the Governor.

From the Attorney General’s letter dated May 14, 2014:

It is our view that this year’s BRFA is constitutional and legally sufficient and that you may sign it. There are, however, a number of severable provisions of the BRFA that are very likely to be found unconstitutional because they violate the single-subject rule in Article III, Section 29 of the Maryland Constitution. We will identify those provisions and, where possible, suggest appropriate remedial measures.

Other provisions found to be likely unconstitutional include an extension of the discounted vehicle certificate fee for rental vehicles, a park service funding mandate, and a mandate that speed camera revenue be spent on vehicle purchases.

Below are excerpts from the letter on stormwater remediation fees and the hotel rental tax.

Stormwater Remediation Fees

Section 18, an uncodified provision, would permit the Maryland Department of the Environment, before December 1, 2014, to enter into a memorandum of understanding with Carroll County or Frederick County to permit them to establish an alternative source of funding to be deposited into a local watershed protection and restoration fund.

In our April 2,2014 letter to Delegate Mclntosh and Senator Pinsky, this Office advised that a proposed amendment to the BRFA that would modify the method by which counties may satisfy their obligations to assess stormwater remediation fees was not germane to the subject of the BRFA and thus violated the one-subject rule. While the proposed amendment addressed in the April 2 letter was broader and applied to any county, and not just Carroll and Frederick counties, narrowing the scope of the provision does not change the fundamental constitutional infirmity. It remains our view that this provision very likely violates the one-subject rule. As a result, it is our advice that this provision is not effective in authorizing the Secretary of the Environment to enter into the memoranda of understanding contemplated by this provision.

Hotel Rental Tax

Although the authorization of a hotel tax is relevant to the financing of local government, it is unrelated to any other provision in the BRFA as introduced or amended, or to the primary purpose of the BRFA, which is to balance the State budget in times of fiscal distress. Therefore, it is our view that the hotel rental tax authorization is not an appropriate subject for the BRFA. We do not, however, recommend any measures to remedy the constitutional flaws in this provision because it leaves to the county the decision whether to impose the tax. Harford County, then, will have to decide for itself whether to attempt to impose a hotel tax based on this provision or to seek a more constitutionally defensible method when the next Legislature convenes.

The Governor signed SB 172 on May 15, 2014.


MDE Hosts Stormwater TMDL Webinar

May 16, 2014

The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) is hosting a stormwater and Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) webinar on “Tools for Developing Stormwater WLA Implementation Plans and MAST Updates.”   The webinar is free and open to interested county participants.  No registration is necessary.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014 – 10:00 AM – 12:00 PM

The first part of the webinar will be a presentation on MDE’s new TMDL Data Center.  The TMDL Data Center is a web-based application developed by MDE that provides local jurisdictions with a variety of tools to use in implementing TMDLs, with a specific focus on implementing Stormwater Wasteload Allocations (WLAs). The presentation will describe the various tools available on the TMDL Data Center, including:

  • a search function for finding approved TMDLs and WLAs
  • a set of tools to assist in disaggregating stormwater WLAs
  • a collection of guidance documents to assist in developing Stormwater WLA Implementation Plans.

The second portion of the webinar will focus on how the Maryland Assessment Scenario Tool (MAST) can be used in the development of Stormwater WLA Implementation Plans.  The presentation will include a brief discussion of the numerous enhancements that have been made to MAST since the development of the Phase II WIP, including:

  • the addition of new baseline scenarios
  • a new county-8-Digit watershed scale
  • a module for estimating scenario costs.

In addition to discussing these updates, Olivia Devereux of Devereux Consulting will conduct a tutorial on how MAST can be used to develop an implementation plan for meeting a Stormwater WLA using baseline years that correspond to local TMDLs.  Lastly, the webinar will briefly touch upon a new tool, BayFAST, which may also be useful in developing implementation plans.  BayFAST is similar to MAST, but it gives users more control in characterizing their watersheds.

The webinar will include time for “Q & A” during which the presenters will answer questions entered by participants in a “chat box” during the course of the webinar.  For those who are unable to attend, or who wish to review the materials presented at another time, the webinar will also be recorded and posted to the CBP website.

 To participate in the webinar:  At the time of the webinar, please sign into Adobe Connect as a guest using your first and last name.

https://epa.connectsolutions.com/cbp_meeting/

Audio for the webinar will be provided via Teleconference Phone: 1-866-299-3188. After dialing the teleconference phone number, please enter the following Conference Code: 410-267-5731#


Baltimore City Announces Partnership Focused on Greening Neighborhoods & Treating Stormwater

May 15, 2014

Baltimore City has announced a partnership with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Chesapeake Bay Trust focused on greening the City’s neighborhoods.

From the City of Baltimore’s press release:

The new Growing Green Design Competition, which was also announced today, aims to transform the City’s vacant lots through projects that benefit neighborhoods and communities, while also treating stormwater. The design competition is part of the Growing Green Initiative (GGI), a City-led effort to use sustainable, innovative, and cost-effective practices for growing Baltimore.

“I am pleased that the Growing Green Initiative will expand upon the success of our Vacants to Value program by simultaneously stabilizing neighborhoods and attracting new development by strategically re-using vacant land for public benefit,” said Mayor Rawlings-Blake. “This is just another step toward building a better, greener, and growing Baltimore.”

The City’s Growing Green Initiative seeks sustainable ways to stabilize and hold land for redevelopment and to re-use vacant land to help green neighborhoods, reduce stormwater runoff, grow food, and create healthy, vibrant community spaces. The design competition engages community groups and design firms in these efforts.

“Helping Baltimore and other cities implement sustainable ways for managing stormwater is an EPA priority,” said Regional Administrator Garvin. “We’ve witnessed the value of green infrastructure design competitions in their ability to catalyze change for creating greener, affordable stormwater management solutions that improve and protect water resources and make communities healthier. These solutions also help communities be resilient to climate change.”

Today’s kick-off brought together interested Baltimore community groups, designers, engineers, landscape architects, and other organizations to connect and consider teaming up as partners in the design competition. With $300,000 contributed by the City of Baltimore, EPA and the Trust, the competition will select the best designs for transforming vacant lots, and award funding to the winning teams to build their projects.

“The Chesapeake Bay Trust is proud to partner with the EPA and Baltimore City on this unique demonstration,” said Jana Davis, executive director of the Trust. “Through this competition, creative partnerships will form that will propose real world, practical solutions that will benefit local communities and treat stormwater at the same time. These solutions will not only benefit Baltimore City, but can be replicated in other cities nationwide.”

To read more about Baltimore City’s Growing Green Initiative or about the competition, visit Baltimore City’s website.


Budget Plan Finalized Stormwater, Film Tax Credits, Bail Reform

April 4, 2014

House and Senate budget conferees completed their work Thursday evening on the State’s $38.7 million fiscal 2015 budget, removing language on stormwater management fees that was proposed in conference earlier this week and increasing funds in the budget for film tax credits from $7.5 million to $18.5 million.

Differences in the Senate and House budget plans were not as substantial as in previous years, as both chambers agreed to use pension reinvestment funds to balance the fiscal 2014 and 2015 budgets.  The stormwater amendment and funding for film tax credits became two of the more controversial items.

As reported by MarylandReporter.com, the stormwater amendment,

…would have allowed all of the 10 jurisdictions affected by the 2012 legislation to siphon a percentage of their property taxes to fund stormwater remediation programs, an initiative devised to clean up the Chesapeake Bay. Instead, only Carroll and Frederick counties will be allowed to establish alternative sources of funding for the “rain tax,” as it is derided by its opponents.

The language now dealing specifically with Carroll and Frederick counties has been included in the Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act. Further details can be found on Conduit Street.

The film tax credit discussion heated up when an amendment was adopted by the House to allow the State to take action against a movie production company that moves filming out of state.  As reported by the Baltimore Sun:

The House last week signaled its resentment over the “House of Cards” threat by tacking an amendment on a budget-related bill to require the state to use its eminent domain powers to acquire the assets of any production company that has received tax credits and moves its filming out of state. On Thursday, House budget conferees agreed to drop the eminent domain provision and tentatively concurred to higher funding.

The House Ways and Means Committee, however, has yet to approve the credit increase or spell out under what conditions credits might be available.

Budget conferees also agreed on funding to partially fund extra costs for public defenders – arising from struggling bail reform efforts. As reported on Conduit Street, the budget-based approach appears to do the following:

  • Provide $10m in state budgeted funds to support the Office of the Public Defender hiring “panel attorneys” to provide indigent representation at bail review hearings
  • Additional costs beyond that budgeted amount placed as a new direct mandate on county governments (who do not currently pay for public defenders)

In response to a request by MACo and others, budget conferees approved budget narrative directing the Maryland State Department of Education to compile and submit information on the “nonrecurring costs” process allowing counties to make one-time investments in school budgets without those funds being built into the state’s permanent funding requirements. As reported on Conduit Street, MACo had supported HB 1145, a revision to the nonrecurring cost process as a legislative initiative for the 2014 legislative session, but resistance to the changes prevented the bill from advancing in the House.

MACo will provide further information, including information on specific county items of interest, as the budget and budget reconciliation bills are released by the conference committee charged with resolving House/Senate differences – as soon as today.


Budget Plan Narrows Stormwater Fee Effects To Carroll, Frederick

April 4, 2014

Following earlier discussions of a substantial change to state-mandated stormwater fee during the state budget conference committee, the joint panel instead has opted to provide a specific avenue for two counties (Carroll and Frederick) to pursue an agreement on alternative financing with the Maryland Department of the Environment.

From coverage in the Baltimore Sun:

The budget conferees agreed Thursday to a new provision specifying that only Carroll and Frederick counties may come up with alternative ways of paying to clean up polluted runoff. Those other arrangements must be adopted in local law and approved by the state environment department.

Environmentalists grudgingly accepted the compromise, though still unhappy over how it had occurred so quickly, without public hearings and the normal legislative process.

Read the full Sun story online (limited free views available).

See Conduit Street‘s previous coverage of the budget conference’s late-session discussions on stormwater issues:
Budget Conferees Unveil Stormwater Amendment


Howard County Executive Ulman’s Proposed Capital Budget Funds Schools, Parks, Stormwater

April 3, 2014

Howard County Executive Ulman released his proposed $259.9 million fiscal 2015 capital budget on April 1, which makes investments is schools, parks, water-quality projects, and the expansion of a new intercounty broadband network.

The county’s press release provides highlights of the capital budget spending plan.

Education: $88.5 million

Howard County Public School System: $77.3 million

  • Deep Run Elementary School (Elkridge) renovation and addition to create six new classrooms, enlarged music and health space, and the replacement of four modular classrooms with permanent space – $13.8 million
  • Atholton High School (Columbia) comprehensive renovation and addition – $9.5 million
  • Patuxent Valley Middle School (Savage) renovation and addition to replace six modular classrooms with permanent construction – $9.4 million
  • Wilde Lake Middle School replacement to create first net-zero-energy school (Columbia) – $7.7 million
  • Laurel Woods Elementary School (North Laurel) renovation – $7.2 million

Howard County Library System: $6.8 million

  • New Elkridge Branch – $6.3 million
  • Central and East Columbia Branch renovations – $500,000

Howard Community College: $4.4 million
Recreation and Parks: $22.3 million

  • Troy Regional Park – $8.9 million
  • Blandair Regional Park – $3 million
  • East Columbia Library Park – $3.5 million

Stormwater projects: $16.6 million

Public safety: $4.7 million

  • New Jessup Fire Station – $2.9 million
  • New Elkridge Fire Station – $505,000
  • Planning for third Police Station – $100,000

Roads, sidewalks and traffic: $26.9 million

The County Council will hold its first public hearing on the proposed capital budget on April 9 and County Executive Ulman will present his capital budget to the Council on April 21.

County Executive Ulman will release his proposed operating budget for fiscal 2015 by April 21.

More information on the county’s proposed capital budget can be found on the county’s website and in a recent Baltimore Sun article.

Budget Conferees Unveil Stormwater Amendment

April 2, 2014

As the Senate and House leaders currently engaged in the budget conference committee have been meeting to resolve issues of difference, many stakeholders were surprised to see an amendment to the budget reconciliation bill regarding county-imposed stormwater fees get discussed and tentatively adopted by the group.

From coverage on MarylandReporter.com:

Following a contentious back-and-forth between the Carroll County government and state officials, the Maryland Department of the Environment allowed Carroll County to allot a portion of its property taxes to fund the county’s stormwater management program.

DeGrange’s amendment to the catch-all Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act permits the other nine jurisdictions to seek the approval of the Department of the Environment to designate a portion of their general property tax for stormwater remediation.

Read the full article on the MarylandReporter site.

The full language discussed, in relevant part, would amend Section 4-202.1(e)(3)(i) of the Environment article to read:

(3) (i) A county or municipality shall set a stormwater remediation fee for property in an amount that is [based]:

1. BASED on the share of stormwater management services related to the property and provided by the county or municipality; OR

2. SUBJECT TO THE APPROVAL OF THE DEPARTMENT, A DEDICATED PORTION OF THE COUNTY PROPERTY TAX THAT IS:

A. BASED ON THE COUNTY OPERATING BUDGET FOR STORMWATER REMEDIATION AND ASSOCIATED EXPENSES; AND

B. DESIGNATED FOR DEPOSIT IN THE LOCAL WATERSHED PROTECTION AND RESTORATION FUND ESTABLISHED UNDER THIS SECTION.

(the bracketed text is removed form law, the capitalized text are new additions)


Environmentalists to Seek Repeal of State Exemption From Stormwater Fees in 2015

March 19, 2014

A March 16 Capital Gazette article reported that with the apparently successful defense against amending or repealing the State-mandated stormwater remediation fee during the 2014 Session, environmental groups are looking towards the 2015 Session to repeal certain exemptions to the fee, including properties owned by the State.

While environmentalists have so far spent much of this year’s 90-day General Assembly session defending the state’s stormwater mandate, some of them say they may be back on the offensive soon.

This time their focus will be on exemptions from the law under which:

  • Some federal entities pay no fees. The Department of Defense has interpreted federal law to exempt its properties from such charges, and Fort George G. Meade and the U.S. Naval Academy don’t get bills from Anne Arundel County or Annapolis.
  • Most private businesses on federal property aren’t billed. For instance, the USO of Metropolitan Washington — which in any case, as a nonprofit, would have to pay only $1 under county law — has an agreement with Fort Meade to provide all of its utilities, said spokeswoman Michelle Shortencarrier.
  • The State of Maryland pays no stormwater charges, as its properties, including its buildings in Annapolis, are exempt from all local fees.

The article noted that while Governor Martin O’Malley has included money in the proposed FY 2015 budget for State properties to pay the fee, the monies and any future payments are not guaranteed and that environmental groups want to repeal the exemptions.

[Chesapeake Bay Foundation spokesman Tom] Zolper said the CBF would “absolutely” be involved in an effort in coming General Assembly sessions to remove the government exemptions to the mandate.

“There shouldn’t be exemptions. States have the same issue that local homeowners and local businesses have. Polluted runoff is discharging from that property,” he said. “Some places there are large properties. We don’t think it’s fair that the state is exempted from a process that they are putting in place for everyone else.”  …

Environmentalists said that repealing the state exemption and other exemptions could force the federal government to pay up as well.

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