MACo Opposes Broad Ban on Septic Development

A MACo panel testified in opposition to House Bill 1107 and Senate Bill 846, before the House Environmental Matters Committee and the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee on March 11.  The bills, sponsored by Delegate Steve Lafferty and Senator Paul Pinsky embody Governor Martin O’Malley’s State of the State proposal to ban the use septic systems in major subdivisions.  The bills, entitled the “Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act of 2011,” would prohibit the use of septic systems on major subdivisions (defined as 5 or more units), limit subdivision and prohibit re-subdivision on specified parcels, require the Maryland Department of the Environment to approve street line and lot line revisions, and require that minor subdivisions using septics must use nitrogen removal technology.  The bill would allow for the use of shared facilities such as package treatment plants.

As previously reported in a Conduit Street post, House Environmental Matters Chair Maggie McIntosh had written a letter to the Governor stating that it was her intention to take the bills to a summer study.  But the Governor stated his desire to have a hearing on the bills.  Based on the Governor’s request, the both the House and Senate held the bill hearings.  The Governor’s March 11 press release contained the following quote:

“By turning a blind eye to the proliferation of septic McMansions, as a State we are in essence feeding donuts to a patient with a heart condition,” said Governor O’Malley.  “Septic systems, by their very design, are intended to leak sewage into our Bay and into our water tables.  Because they require large lots, their proliferation has the effect of carving up our agricultural and rural land.”

He added, “With the reforms we are proposing, we don’t seek to ban these systems or force homeowners to convert their existing systems.  Rather, we aim to rationally curtail their expansion.”

At the bill hearing, MACo Executive Director Michael Sanderson, MACo Associate Director Les Knapp, and Caroline County Planning and Codes Director Katheleen Freeman testified on behalf of MACo.  Mr. Sanderson noted MACo’s willingness over the past several years to work through and eventually support a variety of important land use and environmental legislation, but argued that this bill needed further study due to its significant consequences.  He also stressed that local officials have a better understanding of the needs and concerns of their citizens than State officials.

Mr. Knapp stated that the bill would unfairly affect rural counties and was premised on a Smart Growth model that did not acknowledge the differences between urban and rural counties.  Besides the need for a better rural Smart Growth model, he expressed concern over the cost and practicality of shared facilities, the fiscal impact on counties, the lack of State funding support for both infrastructure and land preservation, the issue over land valuation, and the potential increase in affordable housing.  Ms. Freeman expressed concern over the unintended consequences to her county’s cutting edge agricultural preservation program.

Besides the MACo panelists, representatives from Caroline and Carroll Counties also testified in opposition to the bill.

Governor O’Malley’s Bill Testimony

March 11 blog post on Governor O’Malley’s septics lobbying efforts

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