Governor’s State of the State Calls for Halt to “Major Developments” on Septics

In today’s State of the State address, Governor O’Malley cited progress on the Bay clean up and restoration effort and the help of local governments in this progress, however, he called for a ban on the installation of septic systems in “major Maryland housing developments.”  There is no Statewide definition of what constitutes a “major Maryland housing development” but typical usage applies to subdivisions with as few as five or six homes.  Here is a relevant excerpt from the Governor’s speech:

We must realize that where we choose to sleep, eat, and live affects our environment and our Bay. Together, we’ve made great progress in recent years,… reducing farm run-off, reducing pollution from sewage treatment plants, and – most recently – reducing pollution from storm-water run-off. But there is one area of reducing pollution where so far we have totally failed, and in fact it has gotten much worse,… and that is pollution from the proliferation of new septic systems – systems which by their very design are intend [sic] to leak sewage into our Bay and water tables.

You and I can turn around this damaging trend by banning the further installation of septic systems in major Maryland housing developments. This is common sense, this is urgently needed, this is timely, and for the health of the Bay we need to do what several rural counties have already had the good sense to do.

This statement caused reaction from the building, environmental and local government communities.  As  reported in the Baltimore Sun:

The O’Malley administration had signaled last fall that it would move to require upgrades for existing septic systems near the bay, so they would release only half as much nitrogen. But O’Malley’s call for a ban caught people off guard, aides say, because the governor did not consult with anyone outside state government before proposing it.

“There was an audible, palpable gasp in the chamber when he said it,” said Del. Anthony O’Donnell, the House Republican leader. O’Donnell, who represents St. Mary’s County, called the governor’s proposal “scary” and predicted that it could lead to “an effective building moratorium” in rural counties.  …

Local officials gave mixed reviews to the governor’s proposal.

Anne Arundel County Executive John Leopold, a Republican, called it impractical and questioned where funds would come from to extend sewer service to areas where homes are now built with septic systems. He did note, however, that there are no large housing developments with septic systems under way or planned in the county.

Marsha McLaughlin, Howard County’s planning director, called it a “tough, complicated issue.” She said the harm to the bay from many one- or two-home developments using septic systems can be as bad as a large development.

“What would you do with commercial development?” asked Harford County’s planning and zoning director, Pete Gutwald, noting that Harford Community College uses a septic system.

Among other topics raised in the speech was a reaffirmation of the Governor’s Commitment to school construction, as Governor O’Malley reinforced his pledge to fund $250 Million for school construction, one of MACo’s Legislative Initiatives for the 2011 session. He also discussed plans to promote a strengthening of the workforce and the state’s infrastructure.

Click here to read the address

Gazette coverage of speech
Washington Post coverage of speech
Capital coverage of speech

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