Critics Charge BAT Septic Repeal Equals Sprawl Development

In a Bay Journal op-ed (2016-10-12) environmental advocate and Salisbury University professor Tom Horton was highly critical of proposed regulations by Governor Lawrence (Larry) Hogan that would repeal the requirement to use best available nitrogen removal technology (BAT) septic systems outside of the Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays critical areas. Horton, along with other critics, alleged that the repeal would lead to a return to sprawl development. From the op-ed:

Hogan’s administration is opening the gate not only for more-polluting septic systems, but for a lot more of them — for a return to the sprawl development that Maryland has spent most of the last 20 years trying to channel into smarter, cleaner growth. …

“Without septic, you don’t have sprawl,” said Richard Hall, who was Maryland’s secretary of state planning for eight years under Gov. Martin O’Malley, Hogan’s predecessor.

Historically, in the absence of protective rural zoning, septic perc tests steered development toward prime farm soils and bigger lots — toward the suburban sprawl that’s well-documented to increase air pollution through more driving; raise taxes as counties extend services; and gobble up an average eight times as much land per household as do homes connected to sewers.

The op-ed alleged that the BAT septic requirement and the Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act of 2012 (SB 163), commonly known as the “tier map” legislation, were intertwined and being weakened under the Hogan Administration.

Minimizing septic tanks seemed the logical answer to Hall and his boss, O’Malley. In 2012, they crafted a widely accepted law that dramatically limited development on septic tanks wherever the landscape was “predominantly agriculture and forest.” About the same time, O’Malley required all new septics to remove nitrogen, making sprawl development more expensive, but also less polluting. …

The septic “tier mapping law” as it is known, left ultimate land use power with the counties; but it gave Hall’s Department of State Planning, and the MDE broad latitude to pressure counties into compliance, even to hold up development if it was contrary to the law’s anti-sprawl intent. …

The signals from the state are clear, not just to Cecil, but to Calvert, Queen Anne’s and other rural counties under growth pressure. They need no longer fear state intervention against sprawl. Smart growth is out; dumb growth is back.

State planners these days “pay more attention to the casual Fridays dress code” than they do to Smart Growth laws, said longtime land use advocate Dru Schmidt-Perkins, head of 1000 Friends of Maryland.

“The message to the counties is, ‘Do what you want’,” Hall said of his old department.

Learn more about the proposed BAT septic system repeal at the 2016 MACo Winter Conference by attending the BATter Up! Understanding the BAT Septic System Issue panel.

Learn more about MACo’s Winter Conference:

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