Brave New World For Proposed County & Municipal Phase II MS4s

The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) gave a proverbial lump of coal to 5 counties and eight municipalities on December 22, 2016, when it announced they were to be subject to the federal National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) Phase II permit for stormwater mitigation. The 5-year MS4 permit requires affected entities to mitigate stormwater runoff, such as by improving stormwater infrastructure and retrofitting a certain amount of existing impervious surface. Phase I MS4 permits are individually tailored to the jurisdictions they affect while the Phase II permit is a general permit containing the same basic requirements for all affected permittees. The MS4 permit program is overseen by the United States Environmental Protection Agency who has delegated administration authority in the state to the Maryland Department of the Environment.

The proposed permittees include:

Counties

  1. Allegany
  2. Calvert
  3. Queen Anne’s
  4. St. Mary’s
  5. Wicomico

(These counties would join the two existing Phase II MS4 counties of Cecil and Washington. Ten other counties are subject to Phase I MS4 permits.)

 

  1. North East [Cecil]
  2. Perryville [Cecil]
  3. Rising Sun [Cecil]
  4. Indian Head [Charles]
  5. La Plata [Charles]
  6. Easton [Talbot]
  7. Boonsboro [Washington]
  8. Williamsport [Washington]

(These municipalities would join 20 other municipalities already subject to a Phase II MS4 permit. No municipality is subject to a Phase I MS4 permit.)

In addition to announcing the proposed permittees, MDE also unveiled its new proposed Phase II permit. Public comment on the proposed permit runs until March 30, 2017. MDE will also be holding a public hearing on the issue on February 6. From MDE’s Phase II MS4 webpage:

Questions concerning the General Permit may be directed to Mr. Raymond Bahr at Raymond.Bahr@maryland.gov, or by phone at 410-537-3545 or 1-800-633-6101 or to make an appointment during the hours of 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM. Copies of the document may be procured at a cost of 36¢ per page.

MDE will hold a public hearing concerning this tentative determination from 10:00 AM to 12:00 PM on February 6, 2017 at MDE, Aqua/Terra/Aeris conference rooms, 1800 Washington Blvd., Baltimore, Maryland, 21230. Any hearing impaired person may request an interpreter by contacting the Office of Fair Practices at 410-537-3964 at least ten working days prior to the scheduled hearing date. TTY users should contact the Maryland Relay Service at 1-800-201-7165.

Written comments should be directed to Mr. Raymond Bahr, Maryland Department of the Environment, Water Management Administration, Sediment, Stormwater, and Dam Safety Program, 1800 Washington Blvd., STE 440, Baltimore, Maryland 21230-1708. Written comments concerning this tentative determination will be accepted through March 30, 2017. This comment period already incorporates the additional 60 day extension period provided in Environment Article §1-606(d)(2)(ii).

MACo, the Maryland Municipal League (MML), and the Maryland Municipal Stormwater Association (MAMSA) are jointly sponsoring a Phase II MS4 General Permit Regulatory Workshop to provide assistance and guidance to those local governments already subject to or proposed to be subject to a Phase II permit . The Workshop will be on February 13 from 1:00 PM – 4:30 PM in Baltimore City. Attendance is limited to local governments only. Look for more information soon.

Useful Links

MDE Phase II MS4 Permit Webpage

Copy of the Proposed Phase II MS4 Permit

MDE Phase II MS4 Permit Fact Sheet

 

Manure Transport Program Benefits Bay But Brings Costs

A Baltimore Sun article (2017-01-15) that a State Manure Transport Program that shares the costs of proper disposal of poultry and cow manure is facing increasing costs and could run out of money during the next fiscal year. The program pays for one-half of the costs for farmers, brokers, and poultry companies to haul manure around the Delmarva peninsula to be spread as fertilizer on fields or converted into fertilizer products such as Perdue’s AgriRecycle or Scott’s Miracle Gro Organic Choice. The program also assists Maryland dairy farmers with the hauling and soil injection of cow manure.

Maryland will likely spend more than $1 million this year on the program, and some expect the payouts to increase as restrictions to protect the Chesapeake Bay tighten. Animal waste is blamed for more than a third of the nitrogen and more than half of the phosphorus that pollute the bay. State regulations limit the amount of manure farmers may spread on their fields.

The bill nearly hit seven figures for the first time in the fiscal year that ended in June, according to state data provided to The Baltimore Sun through a public records request. Nearly half of it went to [Perdue’s Delaware AgriRecycle] facility and to the Delaware broker Ray Ellis, who said most of his grants went toward shuttling manure to Pennsylvania mushroom farms. …

The state began subsidizing the cost of transporting manure in 1998, shelling out $18,000.

Costs hit $954,000 in 2016, when tonnage surged above 200,000 for the first time.

Norman Astle, who oversees the program for the Maryland Department of Agriculture, said the program could run out of money this year for a second straight year. …

In the current fiscal year, $357,000 of the state money spent on manure transport comes from general state tax receipts, and $750,000 comes from the state’s Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays Trust Fund.

While the program is credited with playing a role in the recent water quality gains of the Chesapeake Bay, some environmental groups question whether taxpayer dollars should be involved.

“Other industries aren’t afforded these types of subsidies,” said Katlyn Clark, a legal fellow with Waterkeepers Chesapeake. “Manure is an unavoidable consequence of growing, raising, and selling chickens — yet, larger chicken companies have essentially placed this burden on taxpayers and growers of the chickens.”

Grant recipients say they need the subsidy to help defray the cost of helping farmers comply with tightening restrictions on runoff to the bay. …

“I think the industry pays their fair share and this is something that comes back to the industry,” said Steve Lavitsky, vice president of sustainability for Perdue Farms.  …

State agriculture officials said the program has helped clean up the bay. …

“A recent report from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation shows that bay health is improving for the first time since 1998, and I think our farmers have had a lot to do with these results,” the officials said in a statement.

The article also noted legislation was introduced during the 2016 Session by the Maryland Clean Agriculture Coalition that would have eliminated the transportation subsidy and placed all of the costs on poultry companies. That legislation did not pass.

Useful Links

Manure Transport Program Webpage

Perdue AgriRecycle Webpage

Maryland Clean Agriculture Coalition Website

Baltimore County Solar-Farm Bill Withdrawn

Baltimore County councilman Wade Kach withdrew legislation Tuesday that would have regulated the emerging use of solar facilities on rural lands, saying council members could not agree on limits for the size of such projects. The seven-member council was set to vote Tuesday evening on the measure — which would have addressed issues such as height and setback regulations — but Kach withdrew it instead.

As reported by The Baltimore Sun,

The original bill limited solar installations to no more than 20 acres, or half of a property, whichever was smaller. Kach said some council members wanted to increase the size limit to 35 acres, which he said is the equivalent of 27 football fields.

“If you all can envision the Ravens football field, multiply it by 27, that is the size that some on this council believe would be appropriate for the rural part of Baltimore County,” said Kach, a Cockeysville Republican whose district covers the northern part of the county.

Kach also said he expects legal challenges to proposed solar projects.

The legislation was proposed amid growing interest from farmers who want to lease their land to energy companies.

The council heard concerns from rural residents who say the facilities would be an eyesore, and from those worried it would take fertile farmlands out of production.

MACo has adopted energy facility siting as a legislative initiative priority for 2017. A new generation of power facilities – from solar farms to emergent technologies such as biomass or gasification – could be freed up to ignore local zoning and oversight. This decision threatens local land use control; long term planning efforts; and the important rights of communities to guide their own historic, agricultural, and residential character.

Useful Links

Baltimore Sun Article

PSC Utility Law Judge Denies Controversial Solar Project in Kent

A Kent County News article (2017-01-11) announced that a utility law judge for the Public Service Commission (PSC) has proposed denying the application for the Mills Branch Solar project in Kent County for a Certificate of public Convenience and Necessity (CPCN). The proposed order would effectively halt 60 mega-watt/370 acre project, which has generated local controversy. Kent argued that the project went against its zoning, which does include sites for utility scale solar projects. The project’s developer Apex Clean Energy, argued the PSC could preempt local zoning and that benefits of the project warranted the preemption. From the article:

In the 50-page opinion, Judge Dennis Sober wrote, “I find the evidence in support of the granting of a [CPCN] falls short of proving that the Project meets the standard of Public Convenience and Necessity. I find that the weight of the evidence pertaining to the location of the Project is more negative than positive in its persuasive value of creating benefits to (Kent County) and Maryland.”

Sober said the testimony of witnesses from Keep Kent Scenic, a group formed to oppose the project, and the county government was more persuasive than those of the applicant, Apex Clean Energy of Charlottesville, Va. Opponents of the project cited the loss of farmland from crop production and the negative effect of the project on the viewscape and historic sites in the vicinity as reasons to deny the application.

Also, Sober wrote, the staff of the Maryland Public Service Commission “under-valued the importance of the opposition of the local government.” He said the county’s opposition was based on “a reasonable application of land use policies” that are based on local knowledge and experience.

Sober wrote, “Local control over the amount, location, and type of development must be respected by the PSC when there is no weight of evidence of need or benefit to outweigh the local opposition. The weight of the evidence of harm being caused, if the project is built, was significant and was a major factor in my decision to deny the application.”

However, Sober’s proposed order reiterated that the PSC does have the authority preempt local zoning:

On April 26, 2016, a hearing on pending motions was held….In ruling on Kent County’s Motion, I found that the authority of the Commission does preempt the application of the [Kent County] land use ordinance. Therefore, [Kent County’s] Motion for a denial of the application was denied.

The Kent Count News article also included a reaction from Apex:

Apex released the following statement in response to Sober’s ruling: “Though we’re disappointed with the Proposed Order, we still believe Mills Branch Solar is a great project for Kent County and Maryland. Solar energy is good for the economy and good for the environment. This project can provide enough energy to power 10,000 homes, while offering local economic benefits and cutting harmful emissions. We appreciate the letters of support that have been submitted by over 100 Kent County residents, and we appreciate the unanimous support of the neighbors adjacent to the project. We believe that advancing Maryland’s progress toward its renewable energy goals has many benefits, and we’re currently reviewing our options and will provide more information when the time is appropriate.”

The proposed order does not become final until February 10. Before that time: (1) any party that was part of the proceeding may appeal; or (2) the PSC may modify or reverse the order or initiate further proceedings in the matter. Addressing the issue of PSC preemption of local zoning in light of changing energy generation technologies is a 2017 MACo Legislative Initiative. MACo will be introducing legislation shortly to give local zoning greater weight in the PSC siting process.

For further information on MACo’s proposal, please contact Les Knapp at 410.269.0043 or lknapp@mdcounties.org.

Useful Links

Proposed Order of PSC Utility Law Judge for Mills Branch Solar Project

Prior Conduit Street Coverage of Mills Branch Project

MACo 2017 Legislative Initiatives

Hogan, Miller Respond to Poultry, Fracking Concerns at 2017 Annapolis Summit

A short Daily Record video (2017-01-11) highlighted some of the environmental questions Governor Lawrence “Larry” Hogan, House Speaker Michael Busch, and Senate President Thomas Mike Miller fielded from audience members at the 2017 Annapolis Summit. The Summit has become an annual tradition where legislative and executive leadership discuss the key budget and policy issues of the pending Session. WEAA 88.9 FM radio host Marc Steiner hosted and moderated the Summit.

Key among the environmental issues in the video were regulation of the poultry industry and natural gas hydraulic fracturing (commonly known as “fracking”). Hogan called agriculture “one of our most important industries in Maryland” and stressed his support of farming, particularly on the Eastern Shore. Miller also defended agriculture, rejecting an audience proposal to bring agriculture under Maryland’s Clean Air Act.

Miller stressed that the poultry industry and fracking can both provide jobs to areas of the state that desperately need them. Miller noted that local jurisdictions have the right to ban fracking and if the people of Western Maryland wanted such a ban, they should elect State and local representatives who would support such a measure.

 

 

Renewable Energy, Septics, Livestock Antibiotics Among MDLCV’s 2017 Initiatives

mdlcv-logo

Maryland League of Conservation Voters (MDLCV) blog post (2017-01-10)  highlighted the various issues MDLCV and the statewide environmental coalition it is part of will be advocating for during the 2017 Session, including renewable energy/the Clean Energy Jobs Act, antibiotic use in livestock, a statewide Styrofoam ban, and septic system regulations. From the blog post:

In conjunction with the statewide Maryland Climate Coalition and legislative champions in both the Senate and House of Delegates, we are working to override Governor Hogan’s veto of the Clean Energy Jobs Act, a bill ensuring that Maryland gets 25% of its electricity from renewable energy sources like wind and solar by 2020. Additionally, we have prioritized banning hydraulic fracturing in the state, a practice that has been linked to disastrous water and air pollution along with serious public health hazards.

We are also lending our support to limiting the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in livestock to stop the spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria. These bacteria sicken millions of Americans every year and kill tens of thousands. We will also be working on banning Styrofoam statewide. This would be mean no establishment or institution can serve on Styrofoam materials, including restaurants and bans the sale Styrofoam containers or packaging peanuts.

We additionally join with our partners to protect smart growth policies related to septics regulations in reaction to the Governor’s statement this summer on rolling back on Chesapeake Bay restoration.

Related to all environmental legislation, Maryland LCV will be defending the budget for environmental agencies and enforcement of current environmental laws.

Additionally, MDLCV and the statewide coalition is hosting its 2017 Maryland Environmental Summit on January 26 at the Miller Senate Office building. Admission is free but you must register. The keynote speaker will be Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen. Various legislators are also scheduled to speak.

Useful Links

2017 Maryland Environmental Summit Registration

MDLCV Website

 

 

Sun Editorial: Large Scale Solar Needs Planning and Zoning

A Baltimore Sun editorial (2016-12-27) commented on the need for balanced land use oversight of large scale solar facilities so that both green energy and valid environmental and rural land use concerns are addressed. Allowing a greater role for local zoning in the location of utility scale energy generation projects is a 2017 MACo legislative initiative. Currently, the Public Service Commission has the authority to preempt local land use policies and counties are struggling with a “land rush” by energy developers to secure rural and open lands for potential utility scale energy sites. Several high profile cases in Kent and Allegany Counties have raised awareness of the issue, but the problem is statewide. The editorial specifically references legislation proposed by Baltimore County Council Member Wade Kach. From the editorial:

As much as solar power has invaded suburban neighborhoods rooftop by rooftop in recent years, the real growth in solar worldwide has been in larger “farms” where electricity is generated and sold to local utilities or perhaps to one or two large companies. Increasingly, builders are buying or leasing cheap rural land and then installing permanent solar panels. It’s a formula that may help promote renewable energy, but it’s not the best use of land in all cases. …

That’s why Baltimore County Councilman Wade Kach’s recently-introduced plan to regulate rural solar farms is a timely effort. That’s not to suggest that solar power is to be discouraged. Quite the contrary. But a balance should be struck in promoting renewable energy while also preserving rural areas. …

Scale is another matter. The larger the solar farm, the greater the need for zoning oversight. That includes making sure solar farms aren’t adding too much impervious surface, replacing forest or natural habitat or causing stormwater runoff issues. It would be ironic, indeed, if a major installation of solar panels was found to be hurting the water supply by increasing soil erosion that pollutes local streams which pour into rivers and then the Chesapeake Bay. …

Like most important decisions in the planning and zoning arena, this is a balancing act that must respect the important goal of promoting solar energy while also protecting communities, preserving farm land and sparing historic districts from losing their integrity. We don’t know that the legislation as it’s currently written accomplishes the task satisfactorily, but it is certainly worthy of serious consideration and debate.

As part of its discussion, the editorial was also critical over a recent decision by Howard County to permit utility scale solar facilities on preserved farmland.

Carroll Offers Free Workshop on Stormwater Pollution Prevention

The Carroll County Environmental Advisory Council (EAC) is partnering with the Carroll County Water Resource Coordination Council to host a free public workshop on March 18, 2017. The event will be held from 10 AM – 12 PM in the Great Hall at Carroll Community College.  The workshop will provide homeowners with information on how to prevent stormwater pollution and minimize stormwater runoff from their properties.

According to a Carroll County Press Release,

Experts will be available to provide helpful materials and answers to individual questions on the topics listed below.

  • General Homeowner Best Management Practices
  • Lawn Care and Landscape Management
  • Septic Maintenance
  • Permeable Pavement
  • Rain Gardens
  • Composting (Yard and Food Waste)
  • Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!
  • Tree Planting
  • Stream Corridor Assessments & Stream Buffer Initiative

Come for the entire time or just drop-in for specific sessions and talk directly to the expert(s).

More details and information on the Homeowners & Stormwater Workshop can be found here.  No registration is necessary.

CBF Gives Chesapeake Bay Health Highest Grade Ever in 2016 Report Card

In its 2016 “State of the Bay” report, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) gave the health of the Bay an aggregate grade of C-. This grade is the highest given by CBF since the release of its first report in 1998. The biennial reports grade the Bay on 13 indicators in three categories: (1) pollution; (2) habitat; and (3) fisheries. From the CBF 2016 State of the Bay webpage:

Each of the three indicator categories—pollution, habitat, and fisheries—has improved. The iconic blue crab score leapt the most dramatically. The bottom line is our report provides hope and promise for the future.

We believe the Bay is reaching a tipping point. As this report shows, the evidence is there. We are seeing the clearest water in decades, regrowth of acres of lush underwater grass beds, and the comeback of the Chesapeake’s native oysters, which were nearly eradicated by disease, pollution, and overfishing.

The progress reflected in our report shows that the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint, established in 2010, is working. Its strategy of states writing their own plans for restoration with federal support is working. As positive as our report is, it is also important to note that the Bay is not saved yet and that progress is not consistent throughout the region. In particular, Pennsylvania lags far behind its pollution-reduction goals.

Indeed, there continue to be opportunities for improvement.

If we are to see this progress continue, the states on track must stay the course, and those off track jurisdictions must accelerate their work.

Further information from a Baltimore Sun article (2017-01-04):

“The bay is getting better in spite of continued pressures … including population growth, residential and commercial development, intensive agriculture and others,” said William C. Baker, the foundation’s president. “The bay is nowhere near saved. We’ve got a long way left to go.” …

The report “shows signs of hope that our work to date is paying off,” said Alison Prost, the foundation’s Maryland executive director. …

Foundation officials said that if the EPA under the administration of President-elect Donald Trump does not make enforcement of the bay cleanup plan a priority, it will be even more difficult to make progress. While there is political will in Maryland and Virginia to protect the bay, those states have no jurisdiction to encourage efforts elsewhere.

Prost said Maryland must also do more to meet bay cleanup goals.

“The state is not keeping pace with its commitments to reduce polluted runoff from our towns, to protect and replant trees, and to ensure the oyster population recovers,” she said. “If we are to have a healthy and restored bay, rivers, and streams, we must persist.”

Useful Links

2016 State of the Bay Full Report

CBF Website

Tier Map, Conowingo Dam Among Top 10 Cecil County Issues for 2017

In light of the election of new Cecil County Executive Alan McCarthy, a Cecil Whig article (2017-01-04) identified 10 key County issues worth watching in 2017. Among the issues identified was the review of the County’s septic tier map and the submission of proposals to address nutrient and sediment pollution from the Conowingo Dam. From the article:

Tier map revisions?

Just before the end of 2016, the Cecil County Council adopted a former “placeholder” tier map into the county’s official comprehensive plan, despite an outcry from environmentalists who called the adopted map illegal.

The map is an important plan for the county’s future growth and preservation, but former County Executive Tari Moore chose to submit a map with the bare minimum placed in the most restrictive level for development. Farmers generally supported the decision to retain their lands developable value, but environmentalists voiced concern that it left too much vulnerable to development.

Before approving the map in December, the resolution was amended by a majority of the council to include a provision requesting that newly-elected County Executive Alan McCarthy appoint a committee to review the map with respect to the comprehensive plan and offer improvements.

It will be interesting to see who is chosen to work on such a committee and what their recommendations will be. Cecil County has long been one of the only holdouts against the tier map legislation and hasn’t found a groundswell of support from the Republican Hogan administration.

If improvements are not proposed, environmentalists have vowed to take the issue to court, meaning the tier map issue may be far from over.

Progress at dam

In July, Gov. Larry Hogan chose a cliff overlooking the Conowingo Dam to announce his administration’s sharpened focus on finding out more about the role Susquehanna River sediment plays in the pollution of the Chesapeake Bay.

Potential dredging of the sediment that has reached its storage capacity behind the Conowingo Dam is one preventative measure Hogan is considering, a position he reinforced Tuesday in the announcement of his 2017 environmental goals.

“It can’t trap any more sediment … I’ve said all along that Maryland should be leading the charge to clean up the Bay,” the governor said during his July Cecil County tour. “We must address the sediment issue, which has been ignored for years.”

After conducting Maryland’s first Conowingo Dam Summit at the Donaldson Brown Center in Port Deposit, Hogan announced the formation of a multi-agency work group to seek innovative solutions to reduce pollution that threatens the Chesapeake Bay. A formal request for information served as the tool to gather information from the private sector on potential solutions for the work group.

Recommendations from that RFI are expected to be among the ways Hogan works on environmental issues in 2017.

The other eight issues identified in the article included: (1) the political impact of President-elect Donald Trump; (2) job growth and economic development; (3) the upgrade of Fair Hill International’s equestrian center; (4) starting the public school year after Labor Day; (5) construction of a public recreation center in Elkton; (6) state legislation to expand use of the Hatem Bridge E-ZPass transponder to the Tydings (Interstate 95) Bridge during rush hour; (7) planning and development of the Basell research and development facility site; and (8) completion of two Maryland State Highway Administration traffic roundabout projects in Fair Hill and Elkton.