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

Congress Approves Bipartisan Water Infrastructure Bill

Package includes new programs to strengthen Maryland’s stormwater, wastewater, and clean drinking water treatment capabilities.

Congress this week gave final approval to S. 3021, “America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018”, which includes bipartisan elements of bills passed by several Congressional committees, including the Secure Required Funding for Water Infrastructure Now (SRF WIN) Act, the Drinking Water System Improvement Act, and other elements related to water infrastructure.

If signed by President Donald Trump, America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018 would authorize more than $6 billion in spending over 10 years for projects nationwide. The bill allocates more than $4 billion for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, which provides money to states and utilities to improve drinking water infrastructure.

According to United States Senator Ben Cardin:

“The Senate’s passage of the America’s Water Infrastructure Act includes several measures that will mean major improvements for Maryland. It will help Maryland counties meet state storm water requirements, ensure that clean drinking water reaches Marylanders’ homes, protect our drinking water from the effects of climate change, and keep kids safer from lead contamination. It will allow the Army Corps to better maintain federal channels in Maryland, replenish our beaches, and restore and expand islands in the Chesapeake Bay that protect Maryland communities and improve habitats for fish and wildlife.

The legislation passed the Senate by a vote of 99-1 on October 10, it was unanimously approved by the House of Representatives on September 13.

Useful Links

S.2800 – America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018

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.

 

Enrollment is Open–Maryland Climate Leadership Academy

The Maryland Climate Leadership Academy has opened enrollment. The academy offers programs specifically designed for state and local government officials, infrastructure executives, and business leaders. 

;.jpgThe Maryland Climate Leadership Academy, established in June 2018, is powered by:

Overview of the Academy (published on YouTube by ACCO):

Programs to be offered:

  • Professional Training
  • Education and Training
  • Certified Climate Change Professional Training
  • Certificate Programs
  • Primers & Workshops

WHAT NOW?

Learn more about the Maryland Climate Leadership Academy.

Howard County Council, Main Street Businesses Wrestle With Proposed Ellicott City Flood Plan

Baltimore Sun article (2018-09-28) explored the dilemmas posed to Ellicott City businesses and the Howard County government as the County Council prepares to vote on funding for a five-year flood control plan. The plan was developed after two historic floods that caused millions of dollars in property damage to the City’s Main Street and several deaths. From the article:

On Monday, the Howard County Council is scheduled to vote on a bill that would allocate nearly $17 million toward a five-year flood control plan. The bills represent part of a larger $50 million package — advocated by County Executive Allan Kittleman and Ellicott City’s representative on the council, Jon Weinstein — that would implement a massive flood mitigation effort.

The package includes culvert projects, expansion of a channel for the Tiber River, creation of new open space along the Patuxent and the controversial proposal to purchase and raze 19 buildings, including 10 in the historic district. Officials say removing buildings would create an open space to deepen and expand the channel to slow floodwaters.

The article presented the viewpoints of several Main Street business owners on the County’s proposed flood control plans as well as the their personal decisions about whether to reopen or close up shop. Concerns included whether the flood control plan is sufficient to mitigate potentially catastrophic flooding and whether a current development moratorium for surrounding areas will be maintained in the future.

The article also discussed reactions to the most controversial part of the flood control plan – the demolition of 19 buildings. As previously reported on Conduit Street, historic preservation group Preservation Maryland expressed strong opposition to the demolition, citing the results of a Mason-Dixon poll that found 74 percent of the residents would prefer a flood control plan that did not raze the buildings. Kittleman and Weinstein responded that the decision to demolish the buildings was based on engineering studies, running numerous “what if” scenarios, and public safety considerations.

Useful Links

Prior Conduit Street Coverage of Ellicott City flooding

 

 

LGAC: Better Local Technical Assistance Needed to Meet Bay TMDL Challenge

The Local Government Advisory Committee (LGAC) is pushing for better technical assistance to local governments as they work to meet their water pollution reduction goals under the third and final phase of the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL). Specifically, LGAC is considering the creation of a state-specific circuit rider program that can provide assistance to low capacity counties and municipalities.

LGAC held a forum in Winchester, Virginia, on September 26 to discuss and develop a proposal for the creation of the circuit rider program as well as an interstate technical assistance provider network. Key concerns that were discussed during the forum included: (1) ensuring the program was tailored to the unique needs of local governments in different states; (2) not duplicating existing efforts; (3) maintaining local government autonomy; (4) ensuring the program produces meaningful results; and (5) creating a viable and sustainable fiscal structure for the program. MACo Legal and Policy Counsel Les Knapp attended the forum and the subsequent LGAC meeting on September 27.

At its meeting, LGAC discussed the results of the forum and received updates on the Midpoint Assessment of the Bay TMDL, the Conowingo Dam, and the Bay Barometer local government outreach program. Representatives from each attending state also meet amongst themselves to discuss local issues.

LGAC is an advisory body within the Chesapeake Bay Program that provides recommendations regarding the TMDL needs and challenges of local governments to the Chesapeake Bay Executive Council. The Council, which is comprised of the executives of all of the Bay watershed states, coordinates and directs the Bay restoration efforts. Current Maryland county representation on LGAC is provided by Kent County Commissioner Ronald Fithian. Knapp has been serving as an informal alternate member until a second Maryland county vacancy can be filled.

Bay Journal article (2018-09-26) reported on an earlier message delivered by LGAC Chair and former Takoma Park Mayor Bruce Williams to the Chesapeake Executive Council in August. From the article:

“Local governments can be resourceful, innovative and effective partners in watershed protection and restoration,” said Bruce Williams, chair of the Chesapeake Bay Program Local Government Advisory Committee and the former mayor of Takoma Park, MD. “However, we need the tools and resources required for success.”

But in their written report to the council, local officials seemed to question whether their concerns, much of which involve adequate funding as well as technical and staff support, will be listened to and addressed during the plan-writing process.

“The need for more resources remains a key barrier to local governments participating more fully in protecting and restoring water resources in our communities,” they wrote. “State and federal governments must increase funds allocated for local implementation.”

The article noted that LGAC offered several recommendations to the Council, including: (1) better engagement with local governments during the development of the Phase III Watershed Implementation Plans; and (2) providing tools and resources for local governments to succeed.

LGAC’s next quarterly meeting is scheduled to take place November 29-30 in Washington, DC.

Useful Links

LGAC Webpage