Hogan Stresses Bay & Environmental Achievements in Sun Op-Ed

In a Baltimore Sun op-ed (2017-08-10), Maryland Governor Lawrence “Larry” Hogan discussed his Administration’s efforts on restoring the Chesapeake Bay and the need for Maryland to find a solution for the sediment and nutrient pollution posed by the Conowingo Dam. The dam basin, which for decades has served as a trap for sediment and nutrients flowing down the Susquehanna River, appears to be at capacity.

Hogan noted that his Administration has: (1) spent $3 billion in Bay restoration efforts in two and a half years; (2) restored funding for Program Open Space and the Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays Trust Fund; (3) developed a new Phosphorus Management Tool for agriculture; (4) enacted a revised Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act and Maryland Climate Change Commission; (5) prohibited natural gas hydraulic fracturing (commonly known as “fracking”) in the State; (6) worked to update the multi-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI); (7) undertaken infrastructure resiliency efforts based on climate change, sea level rise, and severe weather events; (8) supported clean cars and electric vehicle legislation; and (9) invested in green jobs and clean energy.

From the op-ed:

In today’s world, far too much of our public discourse has degraded to half-truths and personal attacks rather than conversation and compromise. One obvious casualty has been the environment, which is now routinely used as a wedge instead of a common cause. Finding the right balance on environmental policy is important, but we all aspire to achieve the same goals — protecting and preserving the natural world we inhabit for our children and grandchildren.

Hogan called for finding “common ground” on environmental issues and taking “smart and balanced actions” to further environmental protection and promote economic growth.

 

Hogan Seeks Bids For Conowingo Dam Test Dredging

A Baltimore Sun article (2017-08-08) reported that Maryland Governor Lawrence “Larry” Hogan announced plans for a dredging test project for the Conowingo Dam and has requested bids from private companies. The test project is expected to be completed this winter and would determine whether further dredging would be cost effective. The article said that Maryland would pay for the project. According to the article, there is an estimated 31 million cubic yards of sediment behind the dam and dredging would cost $3 billion based on a United States Army Corps of Engineers analysis. Maryland Environmental Service CEO Roy McGrath indicated the bid requests are based on 25,000 cubic yards of dredging. From the article:

The area behind the dam has filled up with sediment and is unable to trap more. Hogan said he worries that one big storm could wipe out recent improvements in the Chesapeake Bay’s health.

“It is absolutely vital that we find real solutions for the problem,” Hogan said at a news conference on the banks of the Susquehanna, in front of the dam.

The article also noted mixed reactions from environmental groups, with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) noting that dredging only addresses sediment pollution and not nitrogen pollution. CBF Executive Director Alison Prost argued that eliminating the sources of pollution was more cost-effective than dredging the dam. However, Chesapeake Bay Commission Executive Director Ann Swanson noted the test project could provide useful data on addressing the Susquehanna River and Conowingo Dam situation.

A Washington Post article (2017-08-08) noted that the test project would cost Maryland about $4 million and that the State would seek to split any future dredging costs with other stakeholders:

Benjamin H. Grumbles, the state’s secretary of the environment, said the test project would cost the state about $4 million. The state will issue a request for proposals Aug. 31 and award a contract this fall, with the dredge operation starting before spring. …

Grumbles said that the state will pay for the test project but that the administration plans to discuss cost-sharing options with other states, the federal government and private partners for a potential larger-scale operation in the future.

Useful Links

Additional Coverage by the Daily Record (2017-08-08)

Prior Conduit Street Coverage of Conowingo Dam Issue

 

 

Hogan Hosting Second Conowingo Dam Summit

A Bay Journal article (2017-08-08) discussed Maryland Governor Lawrence “Larry” Hogan’s second Conowingo Dam summit, which is set to convene on August 8 in Darlington, MD. According to the article, the summit is by invitation only and will be closed to the press, although Hogan plans to hold a press conference after the conclusion of the summit. From the article:

Local officials from rural Maryland counties have complained that they’re being forced to go along with other pollution reduction measures, such as a clampdown on septic-based development, that are far less effective in comparison to the impact that might come from dealing with the buildup behind the dam.  Those complaints have resonated with Hogan….

Hogan, however, has maintained that the dam is a neglected source of the Bay’s water quality woes. And in his newly assumed position as chairman of the Bay Program’s Executive Council, he has leverage to highlight the issue. He has indicated that he holds Exelon Corp., owner of the hydroelectric dam, the federal government and the upriver states of Pennsylvania and New York responsible for the continuing flow of sediment and nutrients down the river.

The article reiterated that after Hogan’s first Conowingo summit last year, the State issued a request for information seeking solutions to the pollution caused by Dam and received at least 11 responses. The article also noted that representatives from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection would be attending the summit.

Useful Links

Prior Conduit Street Coverage of the Conowingo Dam

Chesapeake Executive Council Webpage

Discover how the Conowingo Dam will factor into the upcoming Phase III Watershed Implementation Plans and the potential responsibilities on Maryland’s counties at the What Will We See in Phase III? A Bay TMDL Update discussion at the 2017 MACo Summer Conference.

Learn more about MACo’s Summer Conference:

MDE Reviews Exelon Conowingo Application, Dam Included in Latest Bay Model

The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) has started the formal review process for reviewing Exelon’s application for Clean Water Act Section 401 Water Quality Certification for the Conowingo Hydroelectric Project. Exelon must obtain a certification from MDE prior to getting a new license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. From a MDE Acknowledgment Letter to Exelon (2017-06-23):

MDE plans to place your application on public notice within the next 2 weeks and expects to establish a 30 day public comment period. The public notice will provide a brief description of the proposed project; provide instructions for submission of written comments; and specify the expiration date for the opportunity to comment. After the end of this initial public comment period, MDE plans to provide notice in the Maryland Register of its intent to hold a public hearing on your application. At this time, MDE expects that the public hearing will occur in the fall of 2017. MDE may re-open the public comment period in the event that additional information becomes available which MDE determines should be subject to review and comment. …

MDE will identify all applicable water quality standards and requirements and utilize data, modeling, and further scientific analyses along with the materials provided in your application, and information provided in public comments to determine whether the operation of and discharges from the Conowingo Hydroelectric Project will comply with all applicable Maryland water quality standards and requirements, including those downstream, in the Chesapeake Bay. MDE will undertake this review in coordination with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources as well as other governmental agencies and organizations as appropriate. Should Exelon choose to supplement its application, for example, to address any additional impacts not yet addressed in its applications, MDE will publish the amendments to the application and re-open the public comment period as may be appropriate.

While the sediment and phosphorus pollution generated by the Conowingo Dam and Susquehanna River does not affect every local waterway or Bay tributary, its effect on the main stem of the Bay can be significant, especially during a major storm event. In acknowledgment of the dam’s effect, the latest version of the Bay Model (Phase 6) will incorporate anticipated loading by the Conowingo. Based on preliminary Phase 6 Model results, the Conowingo will add 1-3% more to predicted non-attainment numbers and add 2 million additional pounds of phosphorus into the Bay that must be addressed. A draft EPA consultant analysis has proposed several scenarios for addressing the Conowingo issue. Under at least one of these scenarios, Maryland could see a significant amount of phosphorus added to its target goal under the Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) and be faced with hundreds of millions of dollars in additional costs.

MDE’s public comment period runs through August 9. See the link below for submission instructions.

Useful Links

MDE Conowingo Application Public Notice & Request for Comments (2017-07-10)

Prior Conduit Street Coverage of the Conowingo Dam

Bringing Farm Brewers To Your County

Maryland farmers grow only approximately 25 acres of hops statewide- not a lot for a state experiencing an influx of craft breweries and burgeoning interest in agritourism.

Bryan Butler, an extension agent with the University of Maryland, is working with farmers to test 24 varieties of hops to determine which grow best in our state. WYPR quotes him as saying that he wants to determine whether Maryland farmers can grow “enough hops, good quality hops to really feed this industry in Maryland.”

Butler is working with Tom Barse, who owns Milkhouse Brewery in Frederick County and grows an acre of hops. From WYPR:

Barse has a farm brewer’s license. As long as his beer has something in it that he has grown on his farm, Barse can brew up to 15,000 barrels of beer annually, and he can self-distribute as much as three thousand barrels. He can also sell beer by the glass in his tasting room.

Barse was the first farm brewer in Maryland. He got permission from the legislature to do it in 2012. Now he says there are around 10 farm brewers in the state. “It’s not cool just that you have Maryland ingredients in you beer,” he said. “I mean it’s cool, but if the beer isn’t any good, what difference does it make?”

Read WYPR’s coverage here or listen here:

Learn about Maryland’s craft breweries, wineries and distilleries – and how to attract them – at the MACo Summer Conference session, I’ll Drink To That: Crafting Jobs with Breweries, Distilleries and Wineries, on Thursday, August 17 at 3:30 pm.

Learn more about MACo’s Summer Conference:

Discuss Phase III Bay Restoration Issues at #MACoCon

Receive a major Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) update and discuss your local needs and concerns at the 2017 MACo Summer Conference.

What Will We See in Phase III? A Bay TMDL Update

Description

As the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) effort enters its third and final phase, counties could see significant changes to Bay restoration efforts. At the conclusion of a “mid-point assessment” that is currently underway, counties could receive new nutrient and sediment reduction targets, see changes to the effectiveness of best management practices, and have to draft a new Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP). Speakers will discuss the mid-point assessment, the timeline for the Phase III WIPs, and potential changes to the Bay TMDL and local restoration efforts.

Speakers

  • Nicholas DiPasquale, Chesapeake Bay Program Office Director, United States Environmental Protection Agency
  • Benjamin Grumbles, Secretary of the Environment, Maryland Department of the Environment
  • Adam Ortiz, Environmental Resources Director, Prince George’s County

Moderator: Bruce Williams, Chair, Local Government Advisory Committee

Date & Time: Friday, August 18, 2:15 PM – 3:15 PM

Learn more about MACo’s Summer Conference:

Frederick Asks PSC to Apply New County Solar Ordinance to LeGore Bridge Project

A Frederick News-Post article (2017-07-24) reported that attorneys for Frederick County have requested the Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) to reopen its consideration for a utility scale solar project based on a new County solar ordinance that was passed in May. The ordinance would limit solar projects to 75 acres or less.  Representatives for the proposed 20-megawatt/170-acre LeGore Bridge Solar Center on Clyde Young Road oppose the request, arguing that the project was already granted a special exception by the County’s Board of Zoning Appeals. The project has not yet received a certificate of public convenience and necessity (CPCN) from the PSC.  From the article:

Senior Assistant County Attorney Wendy S. Kearney wrote that the LeGore Bridge Solar Center received special exception approval “under the shadow of an Executive Order” that temporarily halted new solar array development, and with the caveat that any approval they received could be subject to new legislation.

Public Utility Law Judge Robert H. McGowan reopened the case for the limited purpose of allowing the county to file a brief addressing three issues: the impact of the ordinance on the project, whether an earlier special exception was still valid, and what options the project has for speedy approval under the new ordinance.

On Friday, the county filed a five-page brief stating that they believe the ordinance passed by the County Council applies to the project because it did not meet grandfathering provisions or the state’s legal standard for vested development rights.  …

The county asked the judge to delay a final decision on the project until the new process for floating zone approval can begin, or acknowledge in any final decision that the project will need county approval to proceed.

Attorneys for the project are expected to file a response later this week.

The article also noted that the project developer, Coronal Energy, previously opposed the County ordinance and also sought language to grandfather the LeGore Bridge and one other project. A solar project by another developer that had received its CPCN prior to the adoption of the ordinance is currently under construction.

Conowingo: One Dam, Two Views

A Baltimore Sun editorial (2017-07-19) and a Clean Chesapeake Coalition letter to the Washington Post (2017-07-07) offer contrasting views on addressing the sediment and nutrient pollution caused by the Susquehanna River and the Conowingo Dam. The Sun editorial argued that addressing the Conowingo issue should not necessarily be a top State priority based nor should it be done in lieu of addressing other locally impaired waterways or be based on political rhetoric similar to that used in the stormwater remediation fee/”rain tax” debate.  The Clean Chesapeake letter argued that the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) and Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs) already address local water pollution and that addressing the Conowingo should be a top State priority.

From the Sun editorial:

Maryland and the other states in the Chesapeake watershed need to take an “all of the above” approach to protecting the bay from pollution, whether it comes from chicken manure, parking lot runoff, failing septic tanks, sewage spills or anything else.

The problem with pointing a finger at the Conowingo is that first, it’s a difficult problem to “fix.” The most obvious remedy would be to dredge all the sediment behind the dam and truck it to some upland location. But Governor Hogan’s call for suggestions has so far produced some novel approaches such as using the silt to create pavers or countertops, dumping it into the ocean or turning it into concrete. That’s welcome, but the proposals all appear to be costly and no more than “nibble” at the huge inventory of sediment, which the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has already estimated would cost billions of dollars to remove. The second is that this isn’t necessarily the pollution source that should be the top priority for Chesapeake Bay cleanup efforts.

Why? Because while that silt and sediment flowing over the Conowingo can certainly be described as pollution, it primary has an impact on the Chesapeake Bay’s central stem, the deep water that already has problems with low dissolved oxygen. However, the sediment overflow doesn’t really affect valued tributaries like the Potomac, Choptank, Chester or Pocomoke rivers, which contain some of the most critical and environmentally sensitive habitats in the watershed. Nor is it clear that dredging silt from behind the Conowingo (no matter what you do with the dredge material) is the most cost-effective way to reduce the muck coming from the Susquehanna or, in particular, the excess nitrogen and phosphorus those sediments contain. …

In the Conowingo, the governor has correctly identified a problem for Chesapeake Bay water quality, but he speaks of it in a misleading fashion, much as he did with the “rain tax.” Mr. Hogan eventually came around on storm water pollution by making the fees optional while actually better enforcing anti-storm water rules. There’s similar hope for the Conowingo, where any new approach to sediment control is welcome as long as it doesn’t compromise the ongoing federal and state partnership and “pollution diet,” the comprehensive plan to reduce all forms of pollution leading to the bay.

From the Clean Chesapeake Coalition letter:

 

We have “pollution diets”, mandates, bureaucrats and [Non-governmental organizations] galore waving the Bay restoration banner, but no commitment or plan to specifically address the devastating amounts of nutrients, sediment and other contaminants that are scoured into the Bay during storm events and in equally harmful proportions now on a regular basis because the reservoir above Conowingo Dam is full. …

My fellow Clean Chesapeake Coalition county officials and I refuse to accept as the new normal for the Maryland portion of the Bay that all of the reservoirs in the lower Susquehanna River are full, that enormous amounts of Susquehanna River pollution are no longer being trapped, that more storms and harmful scour are inevitable and that dredging Conowingo reservoir is off the table.

The owner of Conowingo Dam (Exelon Corp.) is seeking a 46-year relicense from the federal government. How many storm events can we expect during that period, and how much scoured pollution from Conowingo reservoir, unless we have a plan?

Fortunately, Governor Hogan and his Administration are committed to developing a plan to manage the accumulated sediments in the lower Susquehanna River, regain trapping capacity behind Conowingo and give the Bay some breathing room until Pennsylvania gets its act together.

Useful Links

Prior Conduit Street Coverage of Conowingo Dam

Washington Post Article on Conowingo Dam (2017-07-04)

Clean Chesapeake Coalition Website

There will be a facilitated discussion on the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load and the Phase III Watershed Implementation Plans at the 2017 MACo Summer Conference. Check out the “What Will We See in Phase III? A Bay TMDL Update” on Friday, August 18.

Learn more about MACo’s Summer Conference:

Hogan Reviewing Conowingo Dam Proposals, Plans to Call For Summit

A Baltimore Sun article (2017-07-16) reported that in light of research questioning whether the Conowingo Dam is trapping any nutrients or sediment flowing into the Chesapeake Bay through the Susquehanna River, Maryland Governor Lawrence “Larry” Hogan has redoubled his search for a private contractor to address the problem and will convene a summit to discuss next steps. As previously reported on Conduit Street, Hogan requested proposals for addressing the sediment build-up behind the dam last year. According to the article, Hogan has received a dozen responses:

When Hogan requested proposals last August, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ most recent estimate to dredge the reservoir of 25 million cubic yards of silt stood at $3 billion. That was way too high for the state to undertake the job alone and, some argued, more money than should be spent on a problem that scientists say isn’t the largest source of pollution flowing to the bay. …

Arcadis, based in the Netherlands, suggested buying 2,400 acres of low-quality agricultural land, smearing it with the nutrient-laden sediment and selling it for a higher price. Immix, a Colorado firm, pitched a physics process advertised as using earthquake-strength forces to compress the sediment into pavers and countertops that could be resold at a profit.

Brinjac Engineering, headquartered in Pennsylvania, suggested a two-mile long “biological dredging” operation that would use microbes on the river bottom to chew through sediment, cleaning the water and reducing how much needed to be dredged in the first place. …

Donge Flushing Yard, also based in the Netherlands, offered to build Maryland a custom dredging boat for 18 million euro — about $20.6 million — to pull up muck 24 hours a day and then dump it in the ocean. Once the state owned the boat, the operation would cost $52,000 a week just to bring the material ashore. …

Harbor Rock, headquartered in New Jersey, said that for $100 million a year, it would dredge up the gunk and build a processing plant to feed it through 2,000-degree kilns, which would turn it into a material that can be used to make concrete. …

Cold Harbor, another Colorado company, offered a mobile sediment processing system that could quickly set up in an existing parking lot. It said sand from smaller projects has been used to make boat slips in South Carolina, agricultural topsoil in Indiana and berms at a Florida gun range.

 The article stated that Hogan will be seeking a contractor in August to address the Conowingo issue. The Sun noted that more than a dozen companies have responded to Hogan’s request. Maryland Secretary of the Environment Benjamin Grumbles offered further perspective on the State’s pending actions:

While the administration declined to offer details on the request for proposals the governor will issue, Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles pointed to a road map the state released this year on beneficial ways to use sediment dredged out of the waterways.

That plan, Grumbles said, helps make dredging projects more affordable. Sediment brought up from the Chesapeake can be reused to build roads, restore eroding shorelines, or cap landfills — aftermarket uses that make the sediment a valuable commodity, rather than just expensive waste.

“We’re gaining momentum on the Conowingo challenge,” Grumbles said.

He also said it was “short-sighted” to view dredging as the entire solution to the problem. He touted the benefits of creating a marketplace to sell and trade pollution credits, an initiative the administration pitched unsuccessfully to the General Assembly this year.

Grumbles said the state also plans to use any regulatory leverage it has to force others to help cut pollution before it gets into the watershed and pay to remove it from the reservoir dam. Among those tools: Hogan’s ability to effectively veto Exelon energy’s bid to renew its license to operate the hydroelectric dam.

Useful Links

Conduit Street Article on Recent Conowingo Dam Research

Conduit Street Article on Hogan’s Original Conowingo Announcement

Prior Conduit Street Coverage of Conowingo Dam

Septic Systems, Solar Energy & Forest Conservation Act Interim Study Items for Environment & Transportation Committee

In a letter (2017-05-31) to the Legislative Policy Committee, House Environment and Transportation Committee Chair Kumar Barve described the interim activities of Environment and Transportation Committee, including examining Forest Conservation Act, septic system requirements, and solar energy production. From the letter:

Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Open Space [Subcommittee]

Forest Conservation

Senate Bill 365 of 2017 would have established the Task Force on the Forest Conservation Act Offset Policy to review and study specified issues relating to the impact of development on forested land and the extent to which forest loss is offset through reforestation policies under the Forest Conservation Act. The committee intends to meet with stakeholders over the interim to further examine forest conservation related issues, including the examination of the Act offset policy.

Environment [Subcommittee]

Septic Systems

Chapter 280 of 2009 required, among other things, the installation of septic systems that utilize the best available technology (BAT) for nitrogen removal for new construction or replacement systems in the Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays Critical Area (Critical Area). Through regulations adopted in 2012, the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) expanded the requirements of Chapter 280 beyond the Critical Area, requiring septic systems that utilize BAT for new construction in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, the Atlantic Coastal Bay watershed, and the watershed of a nitrogen-impaired water body. In 2016, MDE adopted new regulations that retracted the expansions established by the 2012 regulations, among other things. House Bill 281 of 2017 sought to codify the 2012 regulatory requirements for BAT outside of the Critical Area. Recognizing the importance of reducing nutrient pollution to waters of the State, the committee intends to further examine the issue of nitrogen pollution from septic systems, including an evaluation of State and local laws and incentives germane to this issue.

Solar Energy Production

The committee intends to investigate the role of land management as it relates to the utility scale production of solar energy. With the recent and dramatic decreases in the cost of solar energy, it has become apparent that we should consider strategies that would encourage development without unduly impacting current land use and preservation objectives.

A workgroup session on septic systems has been scheduled for July 26 at 1:00 PM in the Environment and Transportation Committee room. Topics will include:

  • The impact of expanding the use of BAT systems outside of the Critical Area, and what factors might be considered for using BAT in such areas (i.e. proximity to nitrogen-impaired waterways, soil types and conditions, etc.);
  • In light of Senate Bill 266 of 2017, as amended by the Senate, whether funds in the BRF are prioritized appropriately to address pollution from septic systems;
  • How should we address operation and maintenance and pump-outs; and
  • Whether each county is achieving its WIP goals for pollution from septic systems.

Interested parties can sign up to testify in the committee room starting at 9:00 AM on the 26th. MACo is planning to testify.