Makeover Montgomery Conference to Address Smart Growth Solutions

Suburban areas throughout the nation are working to find effective means to address population increases, changing housing preferences, and growing infrastructure costs, all while making communities more sustainable. The National Center for Smart Growth Research and Education, the Montgomery County Planning Department, and the Urban Studies and Planning Program at the University of Maryland are co-hosting a two-day conference entitled Makeover Montgomery: Innovative Strategies for Rethinking America’s Suburbs Conference. Conference topics include:

  • Planning tools to counter sprawl
  • Transportation networks that really work
  • An analysis of sustainability strategies, from LEED to urban-style development
  • Designing redevelopment projects on a small scale
  • Creating pedestrian-friendly town centers
  • Engaging communities in redevelopment projects
  • Stormwater regulations and how they affect suburban redevelopment

Makeover Montgomery will be held April 14-16 in Silver Spring, MD.  For registration information, please click here.

MACo Corporate Partner Profile: Waste Management

MACo re-introduce Waste Management /Wheelabrator as a returning gold-level partner in our Corporate Partner Program.

Waste Management, Inc. is the leading provider of comprehensive waste and environmental services in North America; committed to a foundation of financial strength, operating excellence, and professionalism.  Nationally recognized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the  U.S. Department of Energy, the corporation actively pursues projects and initiatives that benefit the waste industry, communities, and the environment.

The company serves over 20 million municipal, commercial, industrial, and residential customers through a network of 367 collection operations, 345 transfer stations, 273 active landfill disposal sites, 16 waste-to-energy plants, 134 recycling plants, and 119 beneficial-use landfill gas projects.

Wheelabrator Technologies Inc.,a wholly owned subsidiary of Waste Management, provides safe and environmentally sound conversion of municipal solid waste and other renewable waste fuels into clean energy. Their waste-to-energy facilities provide safe municipal solid waste disposal for towns and cities across the U.S. These facilities deliver clean, renewable electric power to major utilities for distribution to hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses.

For more information on the services provided, please contact Rob Clendenin at

MACo Opposes Critical Area Home Inspection Legislation

MACo Associate Director Les Knapp was joined by Candace Donoho of the Maryland Municipal League and Critical Area Commission Chair Margaret McHale in opposing HB 278 before the House Environmental Matters Committee on February 17.  The bill, sponsored by Delegate Tony McConkey, would require a local jurisdiction to inspect a lot or parcel that is in the jurisdiction’s critical area at the request of a prospective purchaser to determine if a critical area violation exists.  If no violation is discovered or any discovered violation is remedied, the purchaser is not liable for critical area criminal or civil penalties for a subsequently discovered violation that occurred before the time of inspection.

Noting the time and complexity of conducting the inspections, the panel argued that the bill would shift limited local government staff from a resource conservation role to a primarily inspection role.  They also noted that such inspections can be handled by private parties.  Ms. McHale also expressed concern about how a subsequently discovered violation would be addressed if the prospective purchaser had purchased the home and was now not liable for the violation.

Local Governments Throughout US Confronting Stormwater Issues

Local governments throughout the United States are dealing with stormwater runoff and its environmental and financial impacts.  The environmental degradation that results from stormwater runoff are evident. As the excess water travels over fertilized lawns and asphalt,oil, metals, pesticides, and other toxic contaminants are picked up.  According to an article in Governing Magazine,

About 13 percent of U.S. rivers, 18 percent of lakes and 32 percent of estuaries are classified as impaired by stormwater, which means they’re unsafe for swimming or fishing.

Localities have  adopted “gray solutions” (i.e. infrastructure advancements) and “green solutions” (i.e.  landscaping advancements) to deal with the ever-increasing problem with stormwater runoff.

  • Kansas City, Mo., for example, partnered with the EPA to craft a $2.4 billion agreement to reduce combined overflows, which results in annual discharges of 7 billion gallons of raw sewage into the Missouri, Blue and other rivers. “We are on this path because we knew intervention was coming,” says Francis Reddy, project manager for the Kansas City Water Services Department. “Instead of having the feds file a suit, we contacted them.” The plan features a combination of tunnels, sewer rehabilitation, water treatment technologies and green infrastructure, including curbside gardens and rain barrels to sequester stormwater.
  • Philadelphia aims to bypass the typical storage tunnels entirely. Instead, the city’s $1.5 billion plan focuses almost exclusively on eco-friendly solutions — bioswales, permeable pavement, street trees — as a way of reducing the city’s 15 billion gallons of annual overflow. According to Howard Neukrug, director of the Philadelphia Water Department’s Office of Watersheds, the city is “wrestling with the EPA” on details of the proposal, including the timeline and metrics for success.


Septics Legislation Introduced, Governor Defends Proposed Policy

At a Monday press event to mark the introduction of the Governor’s initiative on septic systems, The Baltimore Sun reports that “The governor said he wanted to end a ‘proliferation’ of new housing on septic systems.”

The Sun describes the major bill provisions:

The bill would require any housing project of five or more homes to either hook up to a public sewer system or be served by a shared waste treatment system that is approved and monitored by local and state government. Smaller developments or individual homes could still be built on septic, but would have to use higher-quality systems that remove more nitrogen — and which cost about $12,000 more than a standard septic system.

The Governor’s surprise announcement of this policy priority at the State of the State address came too late for the formal introduction of Administration-sponsored legislation, so this proposal will have private sponsors. Delegate Steven Lafferty, a speaker on growth issues at MACo’s recent winter conference, has introduced HB 1107, and Senator Paul Pinsky has introduced the cross-filed SB 846.

Read the full bill text here.

The pair of bills are likely to be before the MACo Legislative Committee for consideration at its February 23 meeting.

Cost Concerns on Watershed Implementation Plan for MDOT

The Department of Legislative Services presented an overview analysis of the Department of Transportation, and raised questions regarding the anticipated costs of retrofits facing state transportation infrastructure. From the analysis:

The Cost of Cleaning Up the Bay for Transportation: The State, other watershed states, and the District of Columbia, have completed a Phase I Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP) for meeting certain restoration goals for the Chesapeake Bay. MDOT will play a role in the State’s effort by funding projects to mitigate the impact of stormwater runoff through retrofits. It is estimated that it will cost MDOT approximately $1.5 billion by 2017 to comply with the WIP. Currently, the department’s Consolidated Transportation Program includes $90 million for this effort. DLS recommends that the department discuss how it will meet the financial demands required under the WIP and how it might impact other capital priorities. In addition, the department should discuss how its efforts will be managed or coordinated with BayStat. DLS also recommends that committee narrative be adopted that would require the department to report to the committees how it will identify the funding for the WIP and any potential impact on other capital projects.

The Department of Transportation issued a series of written responses to the questions raised within the analysis – read the relevant segment here.

Click here for the full DLS overview analysis on the Department of Transportation

Click here for the full list of Operating Budget Analyses prepared by the Department of Legislative Services

DNR Survey Indicates Optimistic Recovery for Bay’s Oyster Population

Results from a two-month survey of Maryland waters indicate that the Chesapeake Bay’s oyster population may be recovering from a two-decade long battle with parasitic diseases.  The survey conducted by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) found an average of 80 spat (baby oysters) in each bushel of shells dredged up from 260 locations throughout the bay and its tributaries.  As the highest count on record since 1997, it appears that Dermo and MSX, the diseases responsible for killing 58% of the bay’s oysters, are declining. The Baltimore Sun reports:

State fisheries director Tom O’Connell said the fall survey results show “some evidence that the native oyster may be establishing some disease resistance.” He said the young bivalves that were produced last year will help seed the sanctuaries the state set up last year in an attempt to rebuild the bay’s population.

The O’Malley administration expanded the network of sanctuaries placed off-limits to commercial harvest from 9 percent of the remaining oyster bars to 24 percent. It also opened up new areas of the bay for leasing by private oyster farmers.

Since last fall, 26 people have applied for 35 new leases to raise oysters, officials said. The state plans to distribute more than $2 million in startup assistance for such aquaculture ventures.

William Goldsborough, senior fisheries scientist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said the news shows the merit of continuing to try to restore the bay’s native Eastern oyster. Two years ago, officials from Maryland and Virginia and the federal government rejected proposals to introduce disease-resistant Asian oysters in the bay, saying the risk of ecological disruption was too great.

Kennedy T. Paynter Jr., an oyster researcher with the University of Maryland, said the state survey matches his own findings in the state’s sanctuary areas.

But he cautioned that the positive trends were still too short-lived to support the conclusion that the oyster population is coming back after decades of decline. The bay’s remaining oysters have benefited from nearly 10 years of relatively rainy weather, he pointed out, which has kept the salinity of the water down and depressed the diseases.

Sun Opinion Piece Supports Proposed Septic Ban

A February 4 Baltimore Sun opinion piece argues in support of Governor Martin O’Malley’s proposed ban on septic systems in large scale developments.

Gov. Martin O’Malley’s call last week to limit the creation of large subdivisions with traditional septic systems was easily the highlight of his State of the State address. It is a bold, if necessary step, in preserving Maryland’s water quality.

But it will not be easily accomplished. Rural lawmakers, developers and contractors are already up in arms. Expect them to be joined by farmers and other property owners who could see the value of their land diminished.  …

Nevertheless, the consequences of what the governor has proposed could be profound. Farmers who might suffer a loss in land value may merit some type of compensation. Lawmakers will need to find ways for government to encourage more appropriate forms of development so homebuilders will have work and the next generation of Marylanders a place to live.

February 3 Conduit Street post on Governor’s proposed ban

GBC Subcommittee Considers County Stormwater Challenges

MACo Associate Director Les Knapp addressed the Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee of the Greater Baltimore Committee (GBC) on February 7.  Mr. Knapp was invited by the Subcommittee to discuss the challenges faced by counties relating to implementation of new stormwater regulations and the Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs).

Mr. Knapp discussed MACo’s concerns with the original 2009 stormwater regulations, including the lack of adequate grandfathering provisions and the need for clarification about when local governments may grant waivers or allow the use of alternatives to environmental site design for redevelopment projects.  He also noted the county concerns with enforcement and maintenance of new environmental site design stormwater structures and the massive costs facing both the State and Counties for TMDL implementation.

The Subcommittee discussed the environmental benefits of the 2010 stormwater regulations and the TMDL requirements.  The Subcommittee also acknowledged the significant cost challenges faced by the State, counties, businesses, and Maryland citizens.  The Subcommittee members and Mr. Knapp agreed that an important missing component in the process was citizen education.

Governor’s State of the State Calls for Halt to “Major Developments” on Septics

In today’s State of the State address, Governor O’Malley cited progress on the Bay clean up and restoration effort and the help of local governments in this progress, however, he called for a ban on the installation of septic systems in “major Maryland housing developments.”  There is no Statewide definition of what constitutes a “major Maryland housing development” but typical usage applies to subdivisions with as few as five or six homes.  Here is a relevant excerpt from the Governor’s speech:

We must realize that where we choose to sleep, eat, and live affects our environment and our Bay. Together, we’ve made great progress in recent years,… reducing farm run-off, reducing pollution from sewage treatment plants, and – most recently – reducing pollution from storm-water run-off. But there is one area of reducing pollution where so far we have totally failed, and in fact it has gotten much worse,… and that is pollution from the proliferation of new septic systems – systems which by their very design are intend [sic] to leak sewage into our Bay and water tables.

You and I can turn around this damaging trend by banning the further installation of septic systems in major Maryland housing developments. This is common sense, this is urgently needed, this is timely, and for the health of the Bay we need to do what several rural counties have already had the good sense to do.

This statement caused reaction from the building, environmental and local government communities.  As  reported in the Baltimore Sun:

The O’Malley administration had signaled last fall that it would move to require upgrades for existing septic systems near the bay, so they would release only half as much nitrogen. But O’Malley’s call for a ban caught people off guard, aides say, because the governor did not consult with anyone outside state government before proposing it.

“There was an audible, palpable gasp in the chamber when he said it,” said Del. Anthony O’Donnell, the House Republican leader. O’Donnell, who represents St. Mary’s County, called the governor’s proposal “scary” and predicted that it could lead to “an effective building moratorium” in rural counties.  …

Local officials gave mixed reviews to the governor’s proposal.

Anne Arundel County Executive John Leopold, a Republican, called it impractical and questioned where funds would come from to extend sewer service to areas where homes are now built with septic systems. He did note, however, that there are no large housing developments with septic systems under way or planned in the county.

Marsha McLaughlin, Howard County’s planning director, called it a “tough, complicated issue.” She said the harm to the bay from many one- or two-home developments using septic systems can be as bad as a large development.

“What would you do with commercial development?” asked Harford County’s planning and zoning director, Pete Gutwald, noting that Harford Community College uses a septic system.

Among other topics raised in the speech was a reaffirmation of the Governor’s Commitment to school construction, as Governor O’Malley reinforced his pledge to fund $250 Million for school construction, one of MACo’s Legislative Initiatives for the 2011 session. He also discussed plans to promote a strengthening of the workforce and the state’s infrastructure.

Click here to read the address

Gazette coverage of speech
Washington Post coverage of speech
Capital coverage of speech