A November 24, 2015, Baltimore Sun article reported that Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman will introduce legislation that would phase out the county’s stormwater remediation fee (also called the “rain tax” by critics) over a two-year period. The article noted that he would partner with County Councilman Greg Fox on the bill. The article also noted Kittleman’s prior opposition to the 2013 State legislation which required 10 counties to adopt a stormwater fee while he was a State Senator. From the article:
I felt then, as I still do now, that creating another tax or fee was unnecessary, excessive and a burden on working families and small businesses, and it was obvious that many residents of Maryland felt the same way,” Kittleman said of his opposition to the fee while in the state Senate. He said he decided to wait a year before making a decision on the fee as county executive based on advice from the county’s Spending Affordability Committee.
Kittleman’s bill, co-sponsored by Fox, a Fulton Republican, would cut the stormwater fee in half next year and eliminate it entirely in 2017.
The article cited that the fee generates about $10 million annually for the county and that repealing the fee does not eliminate the County’s stormwater mitigation requirements under its Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) permit.
“I don’t want anyone to take this legislation as any less of a commitment by Howard County to making sure that we meet our requirements to do what we can to preserve and protect our Chesapeake Bay,” [Kittleman] said. “What’s in dispute is how we fund it.”
Stormwater improvement projects would be paid for out of the county’s general fund under Kittleman’s plan. Money from the dedicated stormwater fund could be leveraged to pay for general obligation bonds that fund stormwater remediation capital projects, he said.
The article also noted Councilman Calvin Ball’s preliminary response to the proposed legislation:
“I remain committed to working with everyone who is dedicated to investing in our environmental sustainability,” Ball said. “While it is unfortunate that the county executive has not shared any of these details with me, I look forward to hearing more about how we’re going to fund the fee and ensure that we address stormwater runoff [and] how we’re going to continue to work towards saving the Chesapeake Bay.”
Learn how MACo, counties, and the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments are collaborating with the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) to address the State’s stormwater restoration project permitting challenges at the 2015 MACo December Winter Conference. As previously reported on Conduit Street, MDE has agreed to helpful permit reforms that will allow counties and other parties to implement restoration projects more efficiently and quickly.
Stormwater restoration projects are often inherently difficult from both an engineering and cost perspective. Add to that a relatively small contractor pool; frustrating permit process; and for some counties, challenging federal permit goals. To address these issues, MACo and county stakeholders have been working with the MDE to make sensible reforms to its permitting process. Panelists will discuss the general challenges posed by stormwater restoration projects, identify specific problems with MDE’s current permitting system, and highlight positive reforms that MDE is undertaking based on county feedback.
Lynn Buhl, Director, Water Management Administration, Maryland Department of the Environment
Erik Michelsen, Administrator, Watershed Protection & Restoration Program, Anne Arundel County Department of Public Works
Karl Berger, Principal Environmental Planner, Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments
Moderator: The Honorable Marvin Holmes, Jr., Maryland House of Delegates
Date & Time: Thursday, December 10, 2015, 2:15 PM – 3:15 PM
A November 16, 2015, Washington Post article reported that members of the Prince George’s County Delegation have announced their priorities for the 2016 Session, including a County tax on plastic bags, school system reporting and oversight, assisting nonprofits who cannot meet the County’s minimum wage law, and changing the amount and cost of County-issued liquor licenses. From the article:
A bag tax? Delegation Chair Jay Walker (D-Prince George’s) will once again introduce a bill that will give Prince George’s government the authority to impose a 5-cent tax on retail stores that provide disposable bags. Similar bills failed to emerge from committee last year and a statewide bill, proposed by county lawmakers, died in 2012 by one vote.
School finances: During County Executive Rushern L. Baker’s (D) campaign to raise property taxes for schools last spring, opponents dominated the debate with concerns about the school system’s finances. Del. Geraldine Valentino-Smith (D) is proposing that CEO Kevin Maxwell be required to report regularly to the General Assembly about financial management practices cited in a scathing 2014 audit by the state.
School inspector general: Del. Alonzo Washington (D) is tacking on more school accountability measures with a proposed bill to establish an inspector general’s office responsible for investigating and examining complaints about the public schools. …
County supplement for nonprofits: Del. Dereck E. Davis (D)…has signed on as a sponsor for a bill attempting to address an unintended consequence of the county’s raising of the minimum wage. A council of Prince George’s nonprofit organizations working with residents with intellectual disabilities says they cannot afford the county’s minimum wage scale, which exceeds the state’s. Negotiations with county leaders failed, and nonprofit leaders are asking the delegation to force county government to reimburse them for millions of dollars to make up the difference and keep their operations running.
A longstanding debate over the Four Seasons development project proposed for Kent Island in Queen Anne’s County received approval from the Board of Public Works this week. Opponents still plan to litigate the matter, so a final resolution may not be in sight.
The Maryland Board of Public Works approved an environmental permit Wednesday for a long-disputed Kent Island housing development after a top state wetlands official said the project would pollute less than the farms now there.
By a 2-1 vote, the board approved a permit needed for the proposed 1,079-unit Four Seasons subdivision on the shore of the Chesapeake Bay.
The board’s action does not mean Hovnanian will be able to break ground soon. Jay Falstad, executive director of the Queen Anne’s Conservation Association, said his organization and others would take the issue to court. Twice before, disputes involving the Four Seasons project were fought all the way to Maryland’s highest court, taking years to reach a resolution.
The survey article discussed the increased use of recycled materials in in asphalt pavement, including reclaimed asphalt pavement (RAP) from existing roads and parking lots and recycled asphalt roofing shingles (RAS).
“Asphalt pavements are inherently sustainable, because when we pave a road, we are putting in place material that can later be harvested for reuse in new pavements,” stated Michael Cote, 2015 NAPA Chairman and Executive Vice President & Chief Development Officer for The Lane Construction Corp… “Well over 99 percent of material removed during maintenance or repair activities ends up being put back to use in new pavements.”
The tons of asphalt pavement mixtures produced using recycled and reclaimed materials saw more than a 6 percent increase from 2013 to 2014, which is a significantly greater increase than the increase in total tons of asphalt mixture produced during the same time period.
The survey found that nearly 72 million tons of [RAP] and 1.9 million tons of [RAS] were used in new asphalt pavement mixes in the United States during 2014. An additional 9 million tons of RAP were used as aggregate, cold mix, and other road-building activities. Reclaiming and reusing the asphalt cement and aggregate in RAP and RAS saved about $2.8 billion in 2014 compared to the use of virgin asphalt binder and aggregates.
The article also summarized the survey’s findings on the rapid adoption of warm-mix asphalt technologies, which reduce the production and placement temperature of asphalt mixtures and can result in energy savings and other benefits.
In 2014, 113.8 million tons of warm-mix asphalt was produced, about a third of all asphalt pavement mix production. This marks a greater than 577 percent increase in the use of warm mix since 2009, the first year the survey was conducted. …
“In 15 states, more than half of all asphalt pavement mixtures were produced as warm-mix asphalt, and in six of them, more than 75 percent was produced as warm mix. This is an incredible rate of adoption for a technology introduced just a decade ago,” said NAPA President Mike Acott. “We are already seeing construction and performance benefits, as well as energy savings, with warm-mix asphalt.”
The Montgomery County Council unanimously passed local legislation during its meeting yesterday to require homeowners to test their homes for radon and provide the results to buyers prior to selling their homes.
Montgomery is the first locality in the country to establish a radon testing requirement, according to the bill’s sponsor, council member Craig Rice (D-Upcounty). Like many other recent regulatory measures passed by the council, however, there are few provisions for enforcement. The radon bill does not specify penalties for noncompliance.
“We’re just trying to get people to test,” Rice said, likening the new requirement to having carbon monoxide detectors in homes and other common safety measures.
The article also describes the risks associated with radon.
Radon is an invisible radioactive gas produced by the natural breakdown of uranium in rocks and soil. It enters homes through foundation cracks and other openings. According to the Environmental Protection Agency , it is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers and the second-leading cause of lung cancer, after cigarette smoking, for the general population.
Following weeks of public lead-up, and amidst a medium-sized group of environmental advocates, the Baltimore Council followed through on its plans to eliminate the county’s stormwater fee with a unanimous vote Monday evening. The veto-proof margin likely resolves the issue, and will phase out the fee completely beginning July 2017.
From coverage in the Baltimore Sun:
The council voted to reduce the stormwater fees attached to 2016 property tax bills and eliminate them in 2017. Council members have said the fee is a burden on homeowners and businesses.
In a letter to county officials earlier this month, the [Chesapeake bay Foundation] said state law requires the county to first send a plan to the Maryland Department of the Environment, describing how it would pay for projects to reduce polluted runoff, “so we know [the money is] allocated and they can actually do the work,” said Elaine Lutz, staff attorney for the foundation.
Environment Secretary Benjamin H. Grumbles said his staff is reviewing the foundation’s concerns.
“We look forward to working with Baltimore County and its citizens for real progress in improving water quality and restoring the Chesapeake Bay,” Grumbles said.
Many are cheering the decision, but close to 100 people rallied against the vote beforehand. Those against the decision held signs at the council meeting that read “Show me the money.” They say they weren’t necessarily opposed to the tax going away, as much as they didn’t want the vote made before a plan was in place for future funding.
A November 9, 2015 Bay Journal opinion piece by recently retired Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) employee Ron Klauda advocated that funding for stream restoration should be prioritized in a manner similar to the medical “triage” system, with slight to moderately damaged streams being given preference over more severely damaged streams that have a lower chance of recovery. In laying the foundation for his proposal, Klauda calculated that 7,700 out of Maryland’s 12,000 stream miles are moderately to critically damaged and that the total costs to restore all damaged streams is in the “hundreds of millions of dollars.”
What’s needed, in my opinion, is a more objective, empirically based prioritization strategy to help decide when, where and how to allocate limited restoration funds to maximize benefits for the ecosystem.
An effective prioritization strategy should embrace the notion that the benefits obtained per restoration dollar spent will be greatest for slightly and moderately damaged streams, but lowest for severely and critically damaged streams — those that are impacted by many stressors and likely have very low probabilities of recovery. …
I suggest we borrow a prioritization strategy for planning and implementing stream restoration actions from the medical world, an approach that has stood the test of time, is still used by doctors and nurses, and is also being used to protect rare species and conserve biodiversity: triage.
Klauda described how a triage system would work and then illustrated the potential benefits of applying such a system to Maryland’s streams:
Triage can sort out those streams with still intact ecological integrity (i.e., mostly healthy or only slightly degraded) that do not need costly restoration actions, but deserve to be protected, and soon, lest they become further damaged.
Triage can also sort out those streams that are moderately damaged and whose ecological structure/functions can likely be recovered with reasonable costs, if the key stressors are removed and appropriate restoration actions taken fairly soon.
And perhaps most importantly, triage can sort out those streams whose ecological integrity is so severely compromised or irretrievably lost such that restoration is almost certainly not possible, even if much money is spent in the attempt.
The most defensible strategy for dealing with these badly damaged streams is to implement minimal management actions to improve their appearance and ensure they do not endanger human health and safety.
The allocation of public resources to stream restoration actions should not be taken lightly. The science and the technology of stream restoration are slowly developing and there is much we don’t know about if and how a stream can be restored. Deciding where restoration is to take place should consider the ecological value of the degraded stream, its location in the watershed, the probability of restoration success, the benefits if restoration is successful and total required costs.
A November 6, 2015, Baltimore Sun article confirmed that the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) and a coalition of other agriculture and builder groups have appealed a series of lower court decisions to the United States Supreme Court over whether the United States Supreme Court over whether the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has authority under the federal Clean Water Act to enact the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL). As previously reported on Conduit Street, the Federation had indicated an appeal was likely by taking certain steps, including asking the Court for an extension to the normal filing deadline.
AFBF’s arguments have been rejected twice before in lower court holdings. From the Sun article:
In a petition filed with the high court, the industry groups argue that the Environmental Protection Agency’s “blueprint” for restoring the bay “opens the door for a dramatic expansion of federal power” and must be overturned. …
“It’s about whether EPA has the power to override local decisions on what land can be farmed, where homes can be built, and where schools, hospitals, roads and communities can be developed,” said Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.
Chesapeake Bay Foundation President William C. Baker called the groups’ appeal to the Supreme Court “both predictable and sad.” He said he believed the justices will uphold the lower courts’ rulings and refuse to hear the case. …
Baker said the industry groups need to accept that the EPA cleanup plan “is the best hope for restoring water quality in local rivers, streams, and the Chesapeake Bay.
The Conduit Street Q&A is our opportunity to get closer to the policymakers and public leaders who affect Maryland and its counties. We’ll ask questions about the person, the policy, and the politics – and let their answers bring you valuable insights on the biggest issues of today and tomorrow.
This week, we catch up with Mark Belton, Secretary of the Department of Natural Resources, himself a former county elected official.
MACo: Your background before getting the role as Secretary of Department of Natural Resources is pretty complicated… but for our county audience, it seems obvious to ask about your county experience. You were elected County Commissioner in Queen Anne’s County. How did serving in elected office prepare you for the visibility of the role as Secretary?
Belton: In addition to serving as County Commissioner in Queen Anne’s County, I was also County Administrator in three different counties within the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. My county experience was ideal preparation for my role as Natural Resources Secretary. I feel particularly well versed on issues counties face and how a state agency like ours can be an asset in tackling them. For instance, local governments work to enhance land preservation and implement best practices to restore the bay every day. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources faces these same issues and we know the only way to succeed is by working together, across local communities and local governments, and in partnership with regional and federal organizations. The Department views local governments as partners and understanding county issues helps me be a better agency secretary.
MACo: County Commissioner is famously one of those jobs where you get stopped at the supermarket by neighbors who know what you just voted for. Are you feeling some of that same face-to-face input as Secretary?
Belton: The demand on our natural resources is keen and there are competing—and sometimes incompatible—groups vying to use them. So, there are a lot of citizens interested in talking to me given my role. I recognize this and I’ve made it a priority to get out of the office and into communities whenever my schedule allows. I’ve urged my staff to do the same. In my first months as Secretary, I’ve had the chance to visit many parts of the state—from the coasts of Worcester County to the mountains of Garrett County. During these and future visits, I’m able to see our natural resources first-hand and better understand issues local governments and other organizations face as they manage these resources.
MACo: Your resume is full of other experiences that you bring to the table – time with the Navy in both active and reserve service, and some time at the Department of Natural Resources. How have all these things helped shape you as an agency leader?
Belton: As you pointed out, I spent 32-years of my career with the U.S. Navy, which helped me understand executive management and leadership in small, medium and large-sized organizations. My experience as Natural Resources Assistant Secretary during the Ehrlich administration gave me direct understanding of the organization, and most importantly, the agency’s goals, challenges and capabilities. Taken all together, my skill set and experience have provided me with an excellent foundation to take on the role of Secretary. I’m excited for what the agency and the state will accomplish with our local partners in coming years.
MACo: Okay, on to some more policy. The water quality effort for the Chesapeake Bay has been a major issue for years – with the state and counties adopting Watershed Improvement Plans and everyone targeting stormwater, nutrient runoff, and best practices. Several state agencies are overseeing parts of that huge effort. What role does the department play in all this?
Belton: In a recent Chesapeake Executive Council meeting, the Chesapeake Bay Program and its partners (including the Department) announced 29 Chesapeake Bay Watershed management strategies that fall into five broad categories: abundant life, clean water, climate change, conserved land and engaged communities. Clearly these areas directly apply to us and, in fact, we have taken the lead on 21 of the 29 strategies.
These strategies and their related action plans are paramount. If all of the bay states make collective progress on every one of the strategies, it will lead to a restored bay. Starting in 2017, and every two years thereafter, partners will monitor, assess and report progress on these strategies. It’s very important to me that Maryland continues to lead the way amongst our partners as we all work together to restore the bay. This is a primary goal of the agency during the Hogan administration.
MACo: When you spoke at MACo’s “Chesapeake Checkpoint” symposium this spring, you talked about bay cleanup efforts and really stressed your interest in building partnerships with counties and other stakeholders. I’m sure you saw all the nodding heads in the room. Can you elaborate on that – and tell us a little more about how you see Natural Resources and county leaders working together?
Belton: The Department currently works directly with our local partners and we want to enhance that partnership moving forward. It is our priority to be accessible to all local jurisdictions, understand concerns and discuss how we can help partner to solve problems. We have numerous tools, programs and services that benefit counties and stakeholders.
A great example of that is the Watershed Assistance Collaborative, which is a program offered through the Department in partnership with other state and federal agencies. The Collaborative provides services and technical assistance to communities to advance nonpoint source restoration activities and projects. (Nonpoint source pollution comes from many different sources and is caused by storm water runoff.) The program operates similar to a consulting service: appropriate experts teach best practices as well as provide funding opportunities for long-term restoration projects. This is an important initiative, especially for smaller counties.
The Chesapeake & Atlantic Coastal Bays Trust Fund is another terrific tool for cost-effective nonpoint source pollution reduction projects for local governments. The Trust Fund encourages multi-year, multi-partner projects that will achieve the greatest reduction per dollar invested. This summer, Governor Hogan announced 14 projects that will receive a total of about $10 million in FY16 funding.
The Department also works very closely with local partners on expanding our network of public lands, trails, parks, wildlife sanctuaries and water access. Our land programs, including Program Open Space (both local and stateside), the Rural Legacy Program and the Maryland Environmental Trust, each provide a unique means to achieve land preservation in local communities. Our Boating Service’s Waterway Improvement Fund is another source of support, which provides improved public water access as well as important dredging services.
I encourage leaders to take advantage of all of these fantastic programs that can enhance bay restoration, land preservation and other significant priorities.
MACo: You also visited MACo’s offices to talk with our Legislative Committee, and during a nice Q&A session you heard a lot about oysters in the Bay. It seems like we’d be missing an opportunity if we didn’t ask for an update there. Anything new learned from this season’s catch, or otherwise coming from the Department or industry?
Belton: Oysters evoke a lot of passion in many Marylanders. One of my goals is to make appropriate changes to our oyster management plan. Next July, an important oyster sanctuary progress report will be published. We plan to use that data, which was collected over the last five years, and consult with experts to determine how the state can move forward with future large scale oyster restoration efforts that will leverage all of the success we have already realized in this area.
At the same time, the management plan needs to provide for continuing opportunity for the public oyster fishery. Our commercial watermen represent a traditional and important part of our state’s seafood industry and the economic benefits derived therein. We’re also in discussions with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on streamlining the oyster aquaculture permitting process to help the many small businesses taking advantage of the growing sector of the bay-based economy.
MACo: One challenge that both county governments and the Department face is running and maintaining parks and recreational lands. You chaired a Land Preservation Workgroup over the summer that looked at funding for Program Open Space and other land preservation programs. Where do you think that Workgroup is headed? What do you expect out of that Workgroup?
Belton: The Workgroup has brought together a lot of enthusiastic people from the land preservation industry, including state, county, municipalities and private sector organizations. At the end of deliberations, the group will submit a report to the General Assembly on Maryland’s land preservation and easement acquisition programs. The group has discussed the role of each program in meeting the state’s land preservation and recreation goals and the transfer tax funding that these programs receive.
There is wide agreement on three themes: 1. A return to full funding for programs funded through the transfer tax formula as soon as possible. 2. More flexibility for local governments in spending Program Open Space allocations on the acquisition and development projects that best meet their recreational and open space needs. 3. Recognition that the current programs are working well and shouldn’t be changed in any substantial way.
MACo: Finally, reform and efficiency has been a key theme of this administration. Can you provide some details and highlight other programs the Department may be reviewing for potential reforms?
Belton: One area is land acquisition and associated mineral rights. Many assume that when the Department looks at properties for acquisition, we only purchase property if the mineral rights are attached. We’re working on a policy that would allow both 1. Land acquisition to take place without the associated mineral rights and 2. To acquire mineral rights for publicly owned land where they’ve already separated.
Another item is water resources on our public lands. Our current policy is especially restrictive. We are researching a policy to broaden this opportunities for private and commercial entities, permitting them to use water from public lands while maintaining strict standards for natural resource protection. This could also allow for economic expansion where it makes sense.
Finally, given the advent of new technology like drones, we are establishing a policy for the use of drones on the half million acres of Maryland public lands.
MACo: Secretary, is there anything we didn’t cover but you’d like to have county leaders and our other readers hear about?
Belton: One item I’d like to note, to reach our goal of a restored Chesapeake Bay by 2025 requires a lot of financial resources. The state of Maryland has taken the lead amongst bay watershed states in seeking out innovative financing options, including pursuing private sector funding. In coming months, we will hold a bay restoration financing seminar that will explore potential opportunities, specifically nutrient trading. The Hogan administration is particularly supportive of this initiative and other alternatives.
Also, I can’t say it enough, land preservation and public access are key to bay restoration and to enhancing the lives of our citizens. There several exciting developments coming to Maryland and its citizens in the near term. We are working in partnership with the Maryland Port Administration to expand public recreation opportunities—like biking, birding and hiking — at Hart-Miller Island State Park, starting spring 2016. A new state park is also expected to open next year on the Eastern Shore: Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park in Cambridge. In southern Maryland, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has nominated Mallows Bay as a National Marine Sanctuary, marking a first for Maryland and the Chesapeake Bay region. The Department is also working with federal and local partners on enhancing access and recreational opportunities along the Captain John Smith Chesapeake Trail, the nation’s first all-water National Historic trail. We are also working with organizations in Western Maryland on improving public access and developing sustainable trails in Garrett County.
I’m confident that the Department and our local partners will see great success in coming years as we work together to change Maryland for the better.
MACo: With that, we thank you so much for your high visibility in the county community – we’ve mentioned you speaking at our events, you were definitely out talking to county leaders all throughout the MACo summer conference, and your open door is a great signal to counties.