Senate Committee Kills Governor’s Septic Bill

The Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee gave an unfavorable vote (7-4) on Governor Larry Hogan’s “Septic Stewardship Act of 2018.” The Administration bill, SB 314, made three primary changes to the septic system account under the Bay Restoration Fund (BRF).

First, the bill exempted a septic system owner from paying the BRF if: (1) the owner has a best available technology nitrogen removal (BAT) septic system; and (2) the owner did not receive a state or federal grant or income tax subtraction modification for installing the BAT septic system.

Second, the bill would allow BRF septic system account money to be used by eligible homeowners for the reasonable cost of pumping out a septic system once every 5 years. In order to be eligible, the homeowner must reside in a local jurisdiction that has developed a “septic stewardship plan.”

Finally, the bill would alter the funding distribution ratios between septic systems and cover crops. The bill would change the current 60% percent septic system/40% cover crop allocation to a 50/50 split.

As previously reported on Conduit Street, MACo supported SB 314 with an amendment to maintain the current 60/40 allocation, arguing that the BRF septic system account is one of the only State funding sources to address the needs of the septic system sector and should not be reduced.

The cross-file of SB 314 is HB 361. HB 361 is scheduled for a hearing in the House Environment and Transportation Committee on February 23. This may or may not change based on the Senate Committee’s action.

Useful Links

SB 314 of 2018

MACo Testimony on SB 314

Prior Conduit Street Coverage of the Septic Stewardship Act

MACo Argues for County Choice on Using Synthetic Turf

MACo Legal and Policy Counsel Les Knapp testified in opposition to legislation against the use of synthetic turf fields before the House Appropriations Committee on February 8, 2018. The bill, HB 505, was sponsored by Delegate Aruna Miller.

HB 505 would require the state or local unit that is constructing a playground or athletic field to give a preference, to the maximum extent practicable, to natural surface materials if state funds are involved. The bill would also prohibit the use of state funds to build a new or replacement playground or athletic field with a synthetic surface.

Knapp cited the many benefits that synthetic turf fields can provide, their importance to county recreational programs, and the lack of research conclusively showing that the fields pose a health or safety risk. From MACo’s testimony:

Artificial and synthetic turf fields provide many recreational benefits over regular turf. The Maryland Association of County Park and Recreation Administrators (MACPRA) conservatively estimates that more than 3.5 million individuals play on artificial or synthetic turf fields in Maryland every year. They further report that research has shown that the fields do not increase the risk of injuries or cause other health concerns. The fields reduce exposure to pesticides and herbicides and allow for greater use than regular turf fields.

Restricting or discouraging the use of synthetic and turf fields would place an unnecessary hardship on already limited local funds. The General Assembly has considered and rejected synthetic turf bans or prohibitions nearly every year for the last five or six years.

MACo fully supports ongoing research into the safety of synthetic turf fields. As the bill’s fiscal note indicates, there is a comprehensive and ongoing multi-agency federal research action plan (FRAP) that is studying the potential health effects of the fields. Announced in January of 2016, the FRAP includes the Environmental Protection Agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission. It would be premature to consider any action regarding the use of POS or other state funding for synthetic turf fields while this research is underway.

MACPRA President and Anne Arundel County Recreation and Parks Director Rick Anthony joined Knapp in opposing the bill. Anthony testified that county parks and recreation departments are professionally run and track issues regarding both natural turf and synthetic turf fields closely and that counties should be allowed to choose which fields work best for them. Both Knapp and Anthony stated that if the federal research conclusively shows that synthetic turf fields pose a health threat, counties would obviously respond.

The Maryland Sierra Club, State Healthy Playing Fields Coalition, Montgomery County Civic Federation, Montgomery County Green Democrats, and the Patient Consumer Public Health Coalition testified in support of the bill.

SB 763 is the cross-file to HB 505 and is set to be heard by Senate Budget and Taxation Committee on March 7.

Useful Links

HB 505 of 2018

MACo Testimony on HB 505

Delegate Aruna Miller Webpage

WTOP News Article on HB 505 Hearing (2018-02-10)

County Ag Preservation Bill Increases Acquisition Ability, Lessens Administrative Burdens

MACo Legal and Policy Counsel Les Knapp testified in support of a bill providing greater flexibility to county agricultural preservation programs before the House Environment and Transportation Committee on February 14, 2018. The bill (HB 620) was sponsored by Delegate Eric Luedtke.

HB 620 provides that the Maryland Department of Planning (MDP) and the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation (MALPF) may recertify a county agricultural
preservation program for 5 years, instead of 3 years under current law, if they determine that the county program is consistently effective in the achievement of preservation goals. The bill also
extends from 3 years to 6 years the amount of time that a county may spend agriculture transfer tax revenue before the county must remit the money to the Comptroller.

Knapp noted that the bill provided both administrative benefits as well as increasing the ability of a county program to complete worthy preservation projects. From MACo’s testimony:

Assembling projects for preservation under a county agricultural program can be both complex and time-consuming, especially when the project involves multiple properties. Extending the
current remittance time period from 3 to 6 years allows counties additional time to manage more complex projects or accumulate enough funds to afford a purchase that would otherwise be
beyond the local program’s reach. As the bill’s fiscal note states, there is minimal impact on MALPF.

Likewise, extending the time period from 3 years to 5 years for the recertification of county agricultural preservation programs that have proven to be consistently effective lessens an
administrative burden on the county programs, as well as MDP and MALPF. It can also limit uncertainty for well-performing programs regarding the recertification process. The bill does not
alter any recertification criteria and MDP and MALPF may still choose to recertify a program for just 3 years.

The Maryland Farm Bureau, Partners for Open Space, and the Montgomery Agricultural Land Preservation Advisory Board also testified in support of the bill. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation offered an amendment that would allow MDP and MALPF to review a program that has been granted a 5-year recertification after just 3 years if there is a material change in the county’s land use ordinance that would increase development in targeted agricultural preservation areas. No one testified in opposition to the bill.

There is no Senate cross-file to HB 620.

Useful Links

HB 620 of 2018

MACo Testimony on HB 620

Delegate Eric Luedtke Webpage

MACo Resists Septic Bill’s Proposed Funding Shift to Cover Crops

MACo Legal and Policy Counsel Les Knapp offered amendments to an Administration bill on septic systems before the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee on February 13, 2018. The amendments would cancel a proposed shift in funding from the septic system account within the Bay Restoration Fund (BRF) to the cover crop program.

In MACo’s written testimony, Knapp briefly addressed each of the bill’s components:

SB 314 has three primary components. First, the bill exempts a septic system owner from paying the BRF if: (1) the owner has a [best available technology nitrogen removal (BAT)] septic system; and (2) the owner did not receive a state or federal grant or income tax subtraction modification for installing the BAT septic system. The exemption could apply to about 3,800 BAT systems, resulting in an annual decrease of $230,000 in BRF fees. MACo has no issue with this provision given the relatively small fiscal cost and equity principles involved.

Second, the bill would allow BRF septic system account money to be used by eligible homeowners for the reasonable cost of pumping out a septic system once every 5 years. In order to be eligible, the homeowner must reside in a local jurisdiction that has developed a “septic stewardship plan.” MACo supports the potential flexibility this voluntary program could provide. It is MACo’s understanding that counties would be able to continue to prioritize connecting failing septic systems to public sewer and upgrading systems to BAT over pumpouts.

Finally, the bill would alter the funding distribution ratios between septic systems and cover crops. The bill would change the current 60% septic system/40% cover crop allocation to a 50/50 split. MACo is opposed to this change, as it would reduce available BRF septic system monies by $2.97 million annually. The BRF septic system account is one of the only State funding sources to address the needs of the septic system sector and this funding should not be reduced. Consequently, MACo supports an amendment to delete the bill’s proposed 50/50 split and retain the 60/40 allocation under current law.

Governor Larry Hogan’s Deputy Legislative Officer Mathew Palmer and Maryland Secretary of the Environment Benjamin Grumbles testified in support of the bill. The Maryland Realtor’s Association supported the bill with the same amendment as MACo. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Clean Water Action, and the Maryland Onsite Wastewater Professionals Association (MOWPA) all opposed the bill.

Most members of the Committee did not appear receptive to the bill.

HB 361 is the cross-file of SB 314 and is set to be heard on February 23 by the House Environment and Transportation Committee.

Useful Links

SB 314 of 2018

MACo Testimony on SB 314

Governor Larry Hogan Webpage

“A Better Maryland” Arrives in Kent County

Kent County News article (2018-02-02) reported on the recent Maryland Department of Planning (MDP) listening session in Kent County to hear feedback about the new State Development Plan, “A Better Maryland.” The article noted that the plan will be developed in three phases and be finalized in June of 2019. Currently MDP is in a listening and information gathering phase.

The article noted that Kent County residents were able to use their cell phones to respond to questions and send live feedback via text messages. Responses were displayed in real time.

“We want involvement in this process from beginning to end, by as many people as we can possibly get,” [MDP local assistance and training manager Joe] Griffiths said.

The first question, “In one word, what is your community’s greatest strength?” received the largest number of votes for agriculture, while heritage and community were also discussed. …

Another question asked of residents was, “What factor is most important for a high quality of life in your community?” The largest percentage of responses dealt with open space and the environment.

The article noted that the top two answers for the question about what the state development plan should address was agriculture and transportation. Residents also offered their thoughts about local heritage, jobs, diversity, education, and a third Chesapeake Bay bridge crossing.

The Kent County Commissioners also offered their thoughts on what the state should be focusing on as part of “A Better Maryland:”

 

“I think the general sentiment is, cliche, ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it,’” [Commissioner William] Pickrum said. “Most of the residents here are very happy with the way the county is.” …

Commissioner Bill Short said he felt differently about the infrastructure and economic development of Kent County. He hoped that state leadership or state financial aide could help the county grow. …

Commissioner Ron Fithian said the marina industry in Kent County is a big business and some state environmental regulations on marinas can become obstacles for those businesses.

Useful Links

A Better Maryland Webpage

A Better Maryland Event Calendar

A Better Maryland Survey Page

Better Maryland Interactive Rackcard

Anne Arundel Announces Smart Growth Initiatives

After more than six months of intensive public input during the General Development Planning process, Anne Arundel County Executive Steve Schuh on Monday announced further steps Anne Arundel County will take to ensure responsible, measured growth.

According to a press release,

“Over the past six months, we have engaged nearly every community as we look to map future growth in our County,” said Schuh. “As this process continues over the next two years, we must ensure we preserve the character of our communities by instituting measures to combat the forces of development.”

The responsible growth initiatives to be proposed by the County Executive include:

  • Instituting a Zoning Freeze: To ensure the County does not undertake any zoning designation changes so close to General Development planning process, the County Executive will propose legislation preventing the Office of Planning and Zoning from processing requests for re-zoning for any property until a General Development Plan is submitted to the County Council in 2019.
  • Restoring Small Area Planning: The County Executive will submit to the Council legislation that would mandate small area planning for a five year period after the completion of comprehensive rezoning.
  • Eliminating Unnecessary Modifications: At the direction of the County Executive, the Planning and Zoning Officer will reduce the number of development plan modifications, and institute a stricter review process to ensure the intent of the Code is observed. Planning and Zoning would also be barred from granting waivers on the public meeting requirements.
  • Reforming the Variance Process: The County Executive will submit legislation to create an administrative waiver process for the Planning and Zoning Officer to allow for officials to thoroughly evaluate variances for projects with a substantial environmental or community impact.

The Office of Planning and Zoning has also sponsored an extensive schedule of public comment sessions that provide the citizens a significant opportunity to have their voice heard as county government embarks on the 18-month General Development Plan process. Officials from all relevant land use departments have been on hand to hear the ideas and perspectives of residents in every corner of the County.

“We are listening to citizens and working together to produce a collaborative vision for the future of Anne Arundel County,” said Schuh. “These initiatives are a direct result of extensive public input.”

To submit comments, see the schedule for remaining public input sessions, or learn more about the process, residents can visit: http://www.aacounty.org/Plan2040.

The General Development plan is scheduled to be completed by December 2019, with the comprehensive re-zoning legislation submitted to the County Council thereafter.

Read the full press release for more information.

Governor’s FY 2019 Budget Includes $8 Million for Garrett County Parks Projects

A Garrett County Republican article (2018-02-01) reported that Maryland Governor Larry Hogan has included more than $8 million in his FY 2019 budget for state and local park projects in Garrett County. This included $33,000 funding for upgrades to the Friendsville Community Park and $20,000 in funding for Town Park West in Accident. The funding would be provided through the Community Parks and Playgrounds Program.  From the article:

“We are very grateful and appreciative to Gov. Hogan for proposing to fully fund our request, which includes these very worthwhile projects in our community park,” [Friendsville Mayor Spencer Schlosnagle] said. “We take great pride in our park, as it is very beneficial to the many people and groups around the town and the tri-state area who visit and enjoy its many outdoor activities.”

The article also listed the funding proposed for various State parks located in Garrett County that totals $8.03 million.

Climate Change, Growth & Conowingo Dam Challenge 2025 Bay Restoration Goals

Bay Journal article (2018-01-24) explored the three biggest challenges facing Maryland in meeting the 2025 nutrient and sediment reduction goals under the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load: (1) growth; (2) climate change; and (3) the Conowingo Dam. A draft number representing the combined nitrogen generated by these three factors could offset much of the existing nitrogen gains made since 2010. While these factors pose hurdles for all Bay watershed states, Pennsylvania faces the largest shortfall. The article noted that the Bay Program will likely have states address these factors as part of their Phase III Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs) but not necessarily require them to fully implement them by 2025.

Conowingo Dam

The Conowingo Dam has lost its ability to trap nutrients that flow down the Susquehanna River. Maryland Governor Larry Hogan is reviewing proposals to dredge some of the sediment in the Dam’s reservoir, restoring some of its nutrient capturing potential. However, that plan is still in its preliminary stages.

State officials at the December [Bay Commission] meeting agreed to develop a plan for additional nutrient reductions to offset the impact of Conowingo, but they did not commit to fully implementing it by 2025.

Climate Change

The article noted that climate change posed a significant challenge to Bay restoration efforts as the original pollution reduction targets were based on steady climate conditions from the 1990s to 2025. However, state officials were unprepared for climate change numbers added an estimated 4% more nitrogen to the target loads. The changing precipitation rates could also reduce the effectiveness of some stormwater best management practices.

After extensive debate, officials agreed that their watershed implementation plans would generally describe how the states will address nutrient loads from climate change, but delayed quantifying the needed amount of reductions until 2021.

Delaying the inclusion of numeric goals was intended to give scientists more time to refine their estimates and to identify which nutrient control practices are most likely to withstand changing climate conditions.

Growth

The article stated that growth is projected to add an additional 4 million pounds of nitrogen and 154,000 pounds of phosphorus to the Bay by 2025.

[F]orecasts of growth will be incorporated into the nutrient reduction goals given to each state, which will now account for growth upfront when they write new watershed implementation plans.

The article noted that the growth forecasts will be updated every two years.

 

Septic System Legislation Introduced by Governor, Legislators

Both Governor Larry Hogan and Delegate Stephen Lafferty have introduced legislation during the 2018 Session addressing septic systems and the use of best available nitrogen removal technology (BAT). The use of BAT septic systems was a major issue during the 2017 Session. Here is a quick summary of both bills:

Septic Stewardship Act of 2018

HB 361/SB 314 is an Administration bill and includes several components relating to BAT septic systems and the Bay Restoration Fund (BRF). Both versions have numerous Republican legislators as co-sponsors. The bill has three primary parts:

  1. The bill exempts a septic system owner from paying the BRF fee if: (1) the owner has a BAT system; and (2) the owner did not receive a State or federal grant or income tax subtraction modification for installing the BAT system. This new language is analogous to existing law that provides an exemption for users of wastewater facilities operating at enhanced nutrient removal level or better.
  2. The bill alters how the money going into the BRF septic system/cover crop account is divided. Currently, 60% of the funds going into the account goes towards septic systems (including BAT upgrades and connections to wastewater treatment plants) and 40% goes to the Maryland Agriculture Water Quality Cost Share Program within the Department of Agriculture for cover crop activities. The bill would change that distribution to 50% for septics and 50% for cover crops.
  3. The bill would allow BRF septic system money to be used by eligible homeowners for the reasonable cost of pumping out a septic system once every 5 years. In order to be eligible, the homeowner must reside in a local jurisdiction that has developed a “septic stewardship plan.” The plan must include provisions to ensure that septic systems are properly operated and maintained, including being subject to routine pump-outs and inspections.

Sale or Transfer of Home Within the Critical Area

HB 458 is a bill sponsored by Delegate Stephen Lafferty and would require that a home that is on a septic system located within the Chesapeake and Atlantic Coast Bays Critical Area must have a BAT system or be upgraded to a BAT septic system before the home is sold or transferred.

Other Possible Legislation

It is still possible that other legislation affecting septic systems could be introduced. One potential idea that has been discussed would require the use of BAT septic systems within 1,000 feet of any impaired waterway or stream.

 

State of the Bay Update: A Mixed Bag for the Chesapeake

The House Environment and Transportation Committee held a briefing on the state of the Chesapeake Bay on January 17, 2018. The “State of the Bay” briefing has become an annual fixture in the Committee. Presenters highlighted the positive progress that is resulting from Bay restoration efforts but also stressed ongoing challenges, including further reducing nitrogen run-off and addressing urban/suburban stormwater runoff, the Conowingo Dam, climate change, and Aligning for Growth.

Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) Executive Director Alison Prost and Chesapeake Bay Commission Maryland Director Mark Hoffman were the primary presenters, with CBF Maryland Staff Attorney Elaine Lutz joining in to answer several questions posed by Committee members.

Prost noted that based on data through 2016, Bay grass coverage and dissolved oxygen levels were both up and 40% of the Bay’s segments under the Total Maximum Daily Load were meeting water quality standards – a record level. However, Prost noted that meant 60% of the segments were not meeting their TMDL targets and Bay states needed to collectively remove 50 million pounds more nitrogen by 2025 to meet the TMDL goal.

Prost noted that in Maryland, urban/suburban stormwater runoff is now a significant hurdle that must be addressed. Lutz explained that counties subject to Phase I Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) are failing to meet their permit goals. Lutz acknowledged that the time and complexity of completing stormwater remediation projects was playing a significant role in the county shortfall. Lutz noted that CBF was working with both the Maryland Department of the Environment and the affected counties to try to solve the problem before the next round of MS4 permits are issued. Lutz stated that more prescriptive and direct progress goals are needed in the permit while allowing for some local flexibility and that the goals should be based on number of pollutant pounds reduced as opposed to the amount of impervious surface treated. Finally, Lutz said that the new MS4 permits will also include nutrient credit trading.

Regarding septic systems, a chart Prost presented showed that West Virginia was doing better than Maryland in reducing nitrogen pollution from septic systems. Prost explained that in part that was because Maryland set “high and lofty goals” for septic reductions while West Virginia set lower targets and that the portion of West Virginia in the Bay watershed has less population than Maryland. Prost speculated that Maryland may shift some load targets from septic systems to other sectors as the state enters Phase 3 of Bay TMDL. Prost also noted that many counties have focused on hooking groups of failing septics up to public sewer in order to maximize their return on investment.

Hoffman touched on several issues that must be accounted for in the 3rd and final Phase of the Bay TMDL:

  • Conowingo Dam: Hoffman stated that the additional pollution running through the Conowingo Dam from the Susquehanna River will be accounted for in the Phase 3 pollution reduction targets. The pollutants will be addressed through a separate collaborative plan – the additional loads will not just be assigned to Maryland and Pennsylvania.
  • Climate Change: Climate change brings both negatives and positives to Bay restoration efforts. As more research is being conducted, climate change will initially be narrowly incorporated into the Phase 3 Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs). Actual loads based on climate change will be added in 2022-23.
  • Aligning for Growth: The Phase 3 WIPs and Bay Model will incorporate 2025 growth projections based on current zoning. These projections will affect the Phase 3 pollution reduction targets.
  • Funding: Hoffman noted that Bay state funding outstrips federal funding by a 3 to 1 margin but that federal funding remains critical to the success of the Bay TMDL.

Useful Links

Video of E&T Committee State of the Bay Briefing