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St. Mary's Goes Slow On Watershed Plan
Leonardtown, MD - 4/25/2012
By Dick Myers
The St. Mary’s County Commissioners are taking a go-slow approach to their local commitment to the state-mandated Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP) that could carry a huge cost if carried out in its entirety. The plan could require the hookup of more than 6,000 septic systems at a cost estimated by the St. Mary’s County Metropolitan Commission at $176 million, to be borne either by homeowners, government or both. Other counties in the Bay watershed are in similar situations for the Phase II WIP submission due to the state on June 30.
The commissioners, based on a presentation Tuesday by Land Use and Growth Management (LUGM) staff, unanimously agreed to tell the state they are committed to whatever is in their Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) and are committed to looking at the next steps, but nothing more. That next step could involve hiring a consultant.
Last November LUGM Environmental Planner Sue Veith told the commissioners that the Bay has been on a “pollution diet” since December 2010 when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) that has to be achieved by 2025 and sets up milestones to meet those levels. The process came about out of a court settlement in a suit filed by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation against EPA over failure of cleanup programs,
To achieve the Bay’s TMDL by 2015, nitrogen loading has to be reduced by 25 percent, phosphorus by 24 percent and sediment by 20 percent. The state has established a more ambitious deadline of 2020, a point which has become a bone of contention by the counties.
Watershed Implementation Plans became the framework to implement the court settlement. A local committee was established on an ad hoc basis in April of 2011 and has been meeting ever since to come up with the county’s version of the plan which will be incorporated into a state plan. The committee is made up of representatives of most government agencies located in the county.
After the November presentation the commissioners began holding a series of briefings on various components of WIP to decide the future course. With other issues now on the table as the result of the just concluded Maryland General Assembly (which is likely to reconvene soon), including PlanMaryland and the septic bill.
LUGM Director Phillip Shire, in a memo to the county commissioners, underscored the complexity of the Issue: “The WIP II program alone creates significant and programmatic impacts on land-use regulations. When considered in concert with: 1) the triennial CWSP (Comprehensive Water and Sewer Plan) update; 2) Lexington Park Development District Master Plan update; 3) recently adopted State programs, especially PlanMaryland and Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act (Septic Bill), it is evident that an all-inclusive action plan is needed to gain reasonable, workable and affordable compliance with those combined programs.”
Veith said the uncertainty of all of the legislative action has caused confusion even for state staff assigned to the issues.
The commissioners have aligned with the Maryland Association of Counties (MACO) in opposing PlanMaryland and the septic bill. Commissioner Todd Morgan (R: 4th) noted that well-documented opposition in wondering what the advantage would be in holding a public hearing on the WIP II plan, one option presented by LUGM staff.
Commissioner President Francis “Jack” Russell (D) said of not holding a public hearing, “We may have a transparency issue.” Instead Shire suggested a public forum, an idea embraced by County Administrator John Savich.
Commissioner Cynthia Jones (R: 1st), an outspoken critic of PlanMaryland, said of the WIP approach suggested by the staff: “I’m comfortable with that.”
Commissioner Lawrence Jarboe (R: 3rd) questioned the whole process: “We are throwing a whole lot of money on a problem that could be solved in a simpler manner.” He wondered out loud what was going to happen if all the money projected to be spent to meet the WIP milestone on the plan leads to a situation where the Bay continues to deteriorate.” He said natural filtering processes were the answer.
The commissioners did unanimously vote to go along with the cautious approach outlined by staff.
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