Foundation Disputes Fisher's Comments

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Foundation Disputes Fisher's Comments

Annapolis, MD - 1/28/2013

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By Marty Madden

Delegate Mark Fisher
Delegate Mark Fisher

Comments made recently by Delegate Mark N. Fisher [R-District 27B] regarding his co-sponsorship of a bill to repeal the Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act of 2012—better known as The Septic Bill—have drawn reaction from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF).

Specifically, the CBF took issue with Fisher’s claim that individual septic systems are better for the environment than wastewater treatment plants and that local zoning has always been the purview of local governments.

“Both claims are completely false,” CBF Maryland Communications Coordinator Tom Zolper stated.

According to Dr. Lora Harris, an assistant professor and ecologist for the University of Maryland Center for Estuarine Studies at Chesapeake Biological Laboratory in Solomons, noted the “different treatment” of sewage the two systems traditionally provide. A sewerage treatment facility “was designed to deal with a public health problem,” said Harris. “Our technology had not been dealing with nitrogen.”

Harris noted newly developed “tertiary treatment” at a wastewater treatment plant “does more to remove nitrogen than a traditional system.” Harris said those tertiary treatments could remove up to 90 percent of the nitrogen.

A measure passed in the Maryland General Assembly last year—House Bill (HB) 446—doubled the state’s Flush Tax to help fund the upgrade of Maryland’s 67 largest sewage plants. The bill, which Fisher voted against, was lauded by the CBF, which claimed the measure “will decrease nitrogen pollution by about 3.7 million pounds a year.”

While Harris admitted upgrading wastewater treatment plants was good strategy, she indicated the septic systems are the bigger culprit for nitrogen pollution. “We think about point sources but most of the nitrogen coming into the bay is from non-point sources,” she said. “A septic system, either traditional or conventional, that is working fine is still going put nitrogen into groundwater.”

According to CBF Director of Lands Program Lee Epstein, Fisher is in error with his contention that land use has always been the purview of local government.

“Land use authority in Maryland comes directly from the state, which delegates it locally,” said Epstein. “It isn’t necessarily taking away an authority. The state can change its land use laws as it sees fit.”

Epstein said the Critical Areas such as the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, are “a statewide interest, we’re protecting local waters and the bay.”

Regarding passage of the Septic Bill, Epstein noted ”there were lots meetings and there was lots of input. There was a lot of opportunity and there is a lot of autonomy given to the localities. There’s a lot of leeway. There were advocates who wanted a much stronger bill.”

As for the contention that the bill’s four-tier mandate devalues property, Epstein said the Maryland Department of Planning has done research and found that jurisdictions protecting farmland add value to that land. “ If you are protective of farmland you are stabilizing those values, protecting those values,” said Epstein. “There is still economic value in the most restrictive tiers.”

Last year, CBF officials hailed the passage of the Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act of 2012, stating the legislation “aims to reduce sprawl growth in rural areas. The bill has the potential to stop many major subdivisions from being built in areas where we want to preserve farms and forests.”

The bill Fisher is co-sponsoring, HB 106 is scheduled for a hearing in Annapolis Feb. 6 at 1 p.m. A companion bill is being sponsored by Senator E.J. Pipkin [R-District 36].

Contact Marty Madden at marty.madden@thebaynet.com



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