Governor’s Septics Proposal – Heading for Study? Or Showdown?

Today’s Baltimore Sun discusses the “roadblock” facing the Governor’s proposed limits on septic-based development, as the Chair of the House’s Environmental Matters Committee has suggested that the bill be referred for more complete study over the interim. However, contrary to some earlier reports (and the discussion at MACo’s Legislative Committee yesterday), it now appears that the Governor will continue to press for the bill’s passage in this year’s legislative session.

From the Sun coverage:

Del. Maggie McIntosh, head of the House Environmental Matters Committee, wrote O’Malley earlier this week saying that while she agreed with him on the need for tighter curbs on sprawl and on “the proliferation of septic systems,” she was worried the measure would disproportionately affect some counties where most housing is built with on-site sewage treatment.

McIntosh, a Baltimore city Democrat, said she believed the septic limits proposed in the bill needed to be paired with “initiatives that assist farms and rural counties,” two of the constituencies that have complained loudly that the legislation would impoverish them and stifle virtually all growth. McIntosh urged O’Malley to name a task force including those groups, developers and other critics and hash out how septic curbs fit into larger efforts to restore the Chesapeake Bay and preserve farmland from sprawling development.

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O’Malley answered with a letter of his own defending his proposal, while acknowledging, “We need to collectively look at what works in Maryland to address these issues.”

But Shaun Adamec, the governor’s press secretary, said O’Malley stands by the bill he had introduced and intends to testify in support of it at the hearing scheduled March 11 before McIntosh’s committee. And while McIntosh’s desire to study the issue may prevent it from getting out of her committee, Adamec said the governor has not given up on trying to win her and critics over to the need to do something about septics this year — even if it’s a more limited measure.

“Something clearly is better than nothing, but it’s still very much the governor’s intention to outline specifically why it’s so important to take drastic action now,” the governor’s spokesman said.

(An earlier version of this story incorrectly interpreted O’Malley’s letter and earlier remarks by his press secretary to say the governor had yielded to McIntosh’s call for study and would not push for passage of the bill this year.)

MACo has expressed concerns with the far-reaching bill (introduced on the Administration’s behalf as HB 1107 and SB 846, and the Legislative Committee voted yesterday to formally oppose it, even as a study referral seemed imminent.

In the Washington Post, from earlier in the day Wednesday, the Governor’s apparent tone was more conciliatory:

One of Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley’s only new legislative priorities for the year — a ban on most new septic systems — will not be passed into law during this legislative session, the governor all but conceded on Tuesday.

Responding to a call from a key Democratic lawmaker who said the proposal should be studied further, O’Malley’s office released a letter saying the governor agrees “we need to collectively look at what works in Maryland to address these issue … this should include your ideas for pulling together stakeholders.”

The apparent end of the effort to pass the proposal this year was nearly as quiet as its beginning.

Michael Sanderson

Executive Director Maryland Association of Counties

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