Maryland Court Rejects Exelon’s Conowingo Dam Lawsuit

Baltimore Sun article (2018-10-11) reported that a Baltimore Circuit Court judge has rejected Exelon’s lawsuit against the state of Maryland over proposed requirements for the Conowingo Dam. As previously reported on Conduit Street, Exelon has appealed the State’s water quality certification requirements, which is needed as part of the dam’s federal relicensing process, both administratively and judicially. The article stated that Judge Pamela White ruled that Exelon must first exhaust its administrative remedies before appealing to Maryland’s courts. The ruling does not affect Exelon’s administrative appeal or its federal court lawsuit.

From the article:

[Maryland Governor Larry] Hogan said “historic progress” at improving the Chesapeake Bay’s health could be put at risk “if we do not pursue a comprehensive regional approach to reducing pollution in the Susquehanna River.”

Maryland environment Secretary Ben Grumbles called the ruling “great news for clean water and a step forward in the restoration of the Chesapeake Bay.”

Exelon officials said they plan to continue to contest the state permit, known as a water quality certification, because it “sets a precedent of assigning sole responsibility for pollution to the Conowingo Dam.”

Useful Links

Prior Conduit Street Coverage of the Conowingo Dam

MACo Symposium Shines a Light on Solar Siting Issues

County elected officials, planners, and other technical staff from across the state attended a MACo-sponsored symposium on the benefits and challenges posed by community and utility scale solar facilities. The symposium addressed the role of solar in Maryland, the approval process for large solar facilities, different stakeholder perspectives on solar, county planning and zoning issues, and county revenue and taxation issues.

Maryland Public Service Commissioner Michael Richard discussed how the solar siting process worked. Richard noted that while the Public Service Commission (PSC) can preempt local authority in siting solar facilities, it was a power that should be used very judiciously and carefully. Richard also stressed that the PSC gives serious consideration to local government recommendations and concerns on solar sites. Solar United Neighbors Lauren Barchi provided the industry perspective on the approval process and discussed how different kinds of solar projects are categorized.

From L to R: Amy Moredock, Katheleen Freeman, and Derick Berlage

Kent County Planning, Housing, and Zoning Director Amy Moredock; Caroline County Planning and Codes Director Katheleen Freeman, and Prince George’s County Countywide Planning Division Chief Derick Berlage described how each of their respective counties developed zoning rules for large solar facilities. Key concerns raised by the panel included (1) protecting prime agricultural lands, historical sites and viewsheds; (2) managing Forest Conservation Act requirements; (3) and how to handle sensitive environmental lands, such as within critical areas.

Carroll County Management and Budget Director Ted Zaleski and MD-DC-DE-VA Solar Energy Industries Association Executive Director David Murray discussed how counties can earn revenue from solar sites. Zaleski focused on property tax assessments, personal property tax assessments, Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) programs, and permitting fees.

From L to R: David Murray, Colby Ferguson, David Smedick, Nicholas Redding, Lynn Heller

A separate panel provided different stakeholder perspectives on solar projects. The panel included Murray, Maryland Farm Bureau Government Relations Director Colby Ferguson, Sierra Club Maryland Chapter Campaign and Policy Director David Smedick, Preservation Maryland Executive Director Nicholas Redding, and Climate Access Fund Founder/CEO Lynn Heller.

The symposium also provided information on several successful solar projects in Frederick and Prince George’s Counties and included a facilitated audience discussion at the end of the day.

The Maryland Chapter of the Sierra Club and Solar United Neighbors co-sponsored the symposium.

Useful Links

Sierra Club Maryland Chapter Website

Solar United Neighbors Website

 

Maryland-Israel Conference Highlights Water Reuse and Security Issues

The Maryland-Israel Sister State Committee and the Maryland Department of the Environment hosted a conference on water reuse and security on October 10, 2018, in College Park, Maryland. The conference focused on: (1) the current status of water security and reuse issues in Maryland and nationally; (2) State and local plans to increase water reuse and security; and (3) opportunities to partner with Israeli businesses to leverage their methods and technologies locally.

From L to R: Israel-Colorado Innovation Fund General Partner Gili Elkin, Fluence Corp. CMO Erik Arfalk, Rudy Chow, Chris Phipps, Keith Tyson, and Kando CEO Ari Goldfarb

Several presenters discussed national concerns for water security and reuse. From a security perspective, four key vulnerabilities were noted: (1) resiliency to natural or man-made disasters; (2) protection against intentional contamination and attacks; (3) protection against unintentional contamination/accidents; and (4) capacity to handle new and emerging contaminants, such as prescription medications. The presenters also stressed the importance of a water reuse strategy for Maryland. While Maryland is generally thought of as a water “rich” state, some areas already suffer from water shortages and water supplies will be further stressed in the future due to climate change and population growth.

A panel of county department of public works (DPW) directors discussed their efforts and challenges to address water security and reuse, including Baltimore City DPW Director Rudy Chow, Anne Arundel County DPW Director Chris Phipps, and WSSC Engineering/Environmental Services Manager Keith Tyson.

From L to R: Mark Belton, Ben Grumbles, Hans Schmidt, and Roy McGrath

A state panel included Maryland Secretary of Natural Resources Mark Belton, Maryland Secretary of the Environment Ben Grumbles, Maryland Assistant Secretary of Agriculture Hans Schmidt, and Maryland Environmental Services (MES) Director/CEO and Chairman Roy McGrath. Belton focused on water security issues while Grumbles stressed the importance of working with Israeli technology and local governments to move forward with water quality and affordability. Schmidt commented on the diverse water needs of Maryland’s farmers while McGrath discussed the role of MES in providing water services.

Action items generated at the Conference included: (1) funding for water security infrastructure; (2) regulatory flexibility; (3) public education; (3) regulations for use of “greywater”; (4) grants to encourage water reuse; (5) identification of common needs and the sharing of research; (6) approaching the issues from a holistic perspective; and (7) not “reinventing the wheel.”

The Conference was possible because of the Sister State relationship shared between Maryland and Negev, Israel. The University of Maryland and CONSERVE: A Center of Excellence at the Nexus of Sustainable Water Reuse, Food & Health co-hosted the Conference. MACo Legal and Policy Counsel Les Knapp joined various county elected officials and public works personnel in attending the Conference.

Useful Links

Maryland Sister States Program Webpage

Don’t Get Cut By China’s “National Sword” Recycling Policy

Sustainable City Network article (2018-10-08) highlighted a new recycling report prepared by the National League of Cities discussing how local governments can respond to the loss of China as a recycling processor. As previously reported on Conduit Street, China was previously one of the largest recycling processors in the world but has now strictly limited the import of recycling materials under its new “National Sword” policy. The closure of China is causing a recycling crisis throughout the United States as local governments no longer have a market for their collected recycled materials.

The article described China’s policy as well as its effect on United States recycling programs:

Historically, Chinese demand for materials to feed its manufacturing led it to purchase recyclables from all over the world, driving healthy commodity markets in paper, plastics and more. The rest of the industry relied on these sales, not taxes or fees, to fund their collection operations. But China’s new policy, National Sword, is upending this approach. Phase one, which took effect earlier this year, institutes a ban on the two most common U.S. commodity mixes, mixed paper and plastics.

The second phase, which will take effect in 2020, will be a total ban on all solid waste imports. This change could potentially diminish markets, cause market fluctuations and reversals, and lower revenues.

The article noted that in 2016 the United States exported 16 million tons of recycled material to China worth $5.2 billion.

The report lists a series of short-term actions and long-term recommendations for local recycling programs. Short-term actions included:

  1. Slower processing to clean up contamination;
  2. New and unconventional markets;
  3. Stockpiling;
  4. Landfilling;
  5. Waste-to-Energy;
  6. Education;
  7. Contamination fees and fines;
  8. Rate increases and hauling surcharges;
  9. Contract modifications to share risks; and
  10. Rethinking streams.

Long-term recommendations included:

  1. Conduct an economic analysis of your current waste management operations;
  2. Work with contractors;
  3. Ensure fees and rates reflect current costs;
  4. Evaluate local policies and economic incentives;
  5. Explore local and unconventional markets;
  6. Consider your streams; and
  7. Examine asset ownership and consider infrastructure investments.

The report also profiled how several cities are responding to the crisis, including Washington DC.

Useful Links

Rethinking Recycling National League of Cities Report

National League of Cities Website

Prior Conduit Street Coverage of China Recycling Ban

Nature Conservancy Hosting Listening Sessions on Solar & Wind Siting

The Nature Conservancy is hosting three listening sessions across Maryland to discuss how to better site solar and wind facilities in the state while still protecting other land uses. County officials are invited to participate. There is no cost to attend but you must register in advance.

From the registration page:

The Nature Conservancy is hosting three listening sessions to gather input from a wide variety of stakeholders about renewable energy deployment across Maryland. These facilitated discussions will focus on how we can accelerate renewable energy development in places that balance impacts on natural resources and other vital land uses. From the input received, we will develop a report that evaluates the feasibility of future development and identifies hurdles for deployment.

Each listening session will address the same questions (more detail on the topics will be provided upon registration) so please attend whichever session is most convenient. Snacks and refreshments will be provided.

The three sessions include:

Frederick, MD
October 17, 2018
12:30-3:30 PM
Olde Mother Brewing
526 N Market St, Frederick, MD 21701

Annapolis, MD
October 22, 2018
12:30-3:30 PM
Governor Calvert House
58 State Circle Annapolis, MD

Salisbury, MD
October 26, 2018
12:30-3:30 PM
Evolution Craft Brewing Co. & Public House
201 E Vine St, Salisbury, MD

Useful Links

Registration Page

Nature Conservancy Website

AG’s Office Revises Open Meetings Tools & Templates

The Maryland Office of the Attorney General (OAG) has updated its online resources that assist local governments in complying with Maryland’s Open Meetings Act. In particular, changes reflect legislation that passed during 2018 Session (HB 695) that allowed a public body to go into closed-session to discuss cybersecurity matters. OAG has also added a template for the closed-session summaries that must be included in the open session minutes. The template may be used as provided or as a checklist to help public bodies comply with the Act’s requirements.

Useful Links

Open Meetings Act Webpage

Revised Compliance Checklist for Running Meetings

Revised Statement for Closing a Meeting

HB 695 of 2018

 

 

MDP Highlights Pending Land Use Challenges for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles

MDP logoA Maryland Planning Blog article (2018-10-03) discussed how Maryland is preparing for connected and automated vehicles (CAVs) and the land use challenges this emergent technology may pose. The article noted that many vehicles already on the road have some level of autonomous control (such as traction control, lane changing, maintaining distance from other vehicles, and parking), full self-driving vehicles are likely to appear in the near future. The article noted the work that the Maryland Department of Transportation has done through its CAV Working Group and CAV Strategic Action Plan.

The article focused on the potential land use implications, noting that the full effects of CAVs are not yet known. From the article:

The land use impacts of CAVs are not yet known or understood. As the technology draws nearer, local comprehensive plans will need to address the changes CAVs may have on street design and parking, zoning codes, as well as on other modes of transportation, including transit, bicycles, and pedestrian facilities.  Several metropolitan planning organizations (MPO), states and local governments are considering these changes in their comprehensive or transportation plans.

The article noted that the Wilmington Area Planning Council for Cecil County, Maryland and New Castle County, Delaware has included CAV language in its Long-Range Transportation Plan and that the District of Columbia is also considering CAV language in its comprehensive plan. The article also referenced several American Planning Association reports:

 

  • The American Planning Association has completed several recent reports on the topic.  These include:
  • “Autonomous Vehicles: Planning for Impacts on Cities and Regions,” a general overview on how CAVs may affect cities and regions;
  • “Preparing Communities for Autonomous Vehicles,” a detailed review of CAV effects including design;
  • “Principles for Autonomous Vehicle Policy,” an overview of CAV policy principles; and
  • “Planning for Autonomous Mobility (PAS 592), Executive Summary,” a new report that provides basic knowledge and policy recommendations in planning for CAVs.

The article also stated that CAVs were frequently raised during the first round of the Maryland Department of Planning’s listening sessions for the new State Development Plan, A Better Maryland.

Useful Links

CAV News Webpage (through Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration)

Wilmington Area Planning Council Website

American Planning Association Website 

Carroll County IDA Open Meetings Violation Highlights Importance of Training

Carroll County Time article (2018-10-02) highlighted the importance of ensuring local public bodies, especially all-volunteer bodies, are in compliance with Maryland’s Open Meetings Act after the State’s Open Meetings Compliance Board found that the Carroll County Industrial Development Authority (IDA) violated the Act in numerous ways over the last two years.

The IDA was created to secure new industries in the County through land and building projects. The IDA currently has 5 members who are appointed by the Board of County Commissioners.

The article stated that local activist Craig O’Donnell filed the initial complaint with the Compliance Board. From the article:

The board issued the opinion on July 17 this year, stating that the IDA closed meetings without an OMA-trained board member present; failed to provide topics to be discussed in closed meetings and its reasons for excluding the public; and generally failed to post sufficiently detailed minutes after the closed meeting so the topics of discussion could be discerned, and also failed to disclose those minutes at meetings following closed sessions.

In response to the opinion, the IDA is reviewing its open meeting procedures and has a new website for directly posting meeting minutes. From the article:

The IDA discussed at its most recent meeting the measures it is taking to comply with the Open Meetings Act — including that Secretary Frank Dertzbaugh has undergone OMA training and the approval of a new website so the IDA does not need to rely on county staff to post information from its meetings. …

“It wasn’t that we did anything unethical,” [IDA Sue Chambers] said, “it’s just we are all volunteers.”

Both the opinion and the article highlight the importance of ensuring smaller public bodies are trained on the requirements of the Open Meetings Act. Even large and well-staffed public bodies can make open meeting mistakes and smaller bodies must be especially careful about unintentional or inadvertent violations. Both MACo and the Maryland Municipal League offer open meetings training through the Academy for Excellence in Local Governance for local elected officials. Other public body members can access online training and helpful resources through the Open Meetings Act webpage.

Useful Links

Maryland Open Meetings Act Webpage

Carroll County IDA Membership & Minutes

Academy for Excellence in Local Governance Webpage

 

Public Comment Period Open For 2040 Maryland Transportation Plan

The public comment period is now open for the 2040 Maryland Transportation Plan (MTP). The MTP is a statewide transportation plan that outlines how Maryland will develop and maintain its transportation network for the next 20 years. and guides all transportation projects and investments. The MTP is updated every 5 years.

The draft 2040 MPT outlines seven goals and numerous recommendations on how to achieve those goals. From the 2040 MTP’s webpage:

[MDOT] held an internal MDOT engagement session and has conducted external surveys, including an interactive online survey for Maryland residents to learn about and provide input on their transportation priorities in Maryland. All of these interactions, along with our mission statement and existing plans and programs have helped to shape the development of the draft 2040 MTP goals and objectives.

A goal is a broad statement with a desired result that reflects the overall MDOT mission statement. The objectives are more targeted outcomes within the goal area. Within the goals and objectives, associated performance measures are being developed to evaluate how well we annually achieve the 2040 MTP goals. An advisory committee is working with us to provide recommendations on these performance measures.

Source: Maryland Department of Transportation

Public comments may be to MDOT via email at 2019MTP@mdot.state.md.us. Public comments are due by November 14.

Useful Links

2040 MTP Draft Plan

2040 MTP Public Survey Results

MTP Technical Memorandum Conditions, Trends, and Challenges (published February, 2018)

2040 MTP Timeline

 

 

Heavy Rainfalls Pose Risk to Bay Restoration

Bay Journal article (2018-10-04) reported that while the effects of Hurricane Florence will be fairly minimal on Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts, the well above average rainfall this spring and summer could pose challenges. According to the article, Maryland and Pennsylvania set records for the amounts of precipitation that has fallen this year.

The unusual rainfall has resulted in swollen streams and rivers, including the Susquehanna River and the Conowingo Dam, feeding large amounts of fresh water, sediment, and trash into the Bay. These factors can affected oxygen levels, grasses, aquatic life, and water quality in the Bay.

The article noted low-oxygen conditions were worse than average in June and had reverted to near normal levels in August. However, trash and debris, which creates water and shore litter, navigation hazards, and water contamination issues, has been extremely high. Significant amounts of trash were released into the Bay when the Conowingo Dam opens its floodgates (something it has had to do more frequently than normal due to the high rainfall).  The dam’s owner, Exelon, does remove some of the debris that is trapped behind the dam’s reservoir. From the article:

Exelon employees have removed 1,800 tons of floating debris at the dam so far this year, three times what they take out in a normal year, according to Exelon spokeswoman Lacey Dean.

Bay grasses are also at risk due to the heavy amount of smothering sediment that has been released into the Bay. From the article:

Grass beds appear to be holding their own in Virginia’s Rappahannock River and have actually expanded in the upper Chester River in Maryland, [Virginia Institute of Marine Science researcher Bob Orth] said. They have expanded as well in the upper Patuxent River, Orth added, but a large bed off Solomons Island in the lower part of the river has disappeared.

The article noted that the full effect on Bay grasses will not be known until next year, when some grasses emerge from their winter “hibernation.” In the short term, some beds that were recently re-established or saw growth appear to be surviving, albeit at a reduced size.