January 26, 2010

Podcast: Delegate threatens stormwater legislation

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By Natalie Neumann
Natalie@MarylandReporter.com

Editor’s note: check below this story to hear or download an audio report on the stormwater controversy.

The head of the House Environmental Matters Committee is threatening to introduce new legislation if the Maryland Department of the Environment can’t resolve a conflict between developers and environmentalists over runoff into the Chesapeake Bay.

Maryland’s development and environmental communities are torn over regulations for how builders manage runoff from their projects. Local jurisdictions must put new rules in place by May.

The proposed rules make exceptions for redevelopment of already existing properties, but developers say they still go too far. Environmental groups worry that retreat will eliminate any benefit to the Chesapeake Bay.

House Environmental Matters Committee Chair Maggie McIntosh, a Democrat from Baltimore City, said the program passed in 2007 almost unanimously.

“It had the support of local government, developers in the state. So somewhere in the next month we need to get back to that position, as close back to it as we can,” she said

Gov. Martin O’Malley said stormwater runoff is bringing nitrogen into the bay at an increasing rate while the flow from other sources, like farms and sewer treatment plants, is decreasing.

“We’ve got to do something. It’s a new concept for us. Other countries have figured out a way to do it,” he said.

However, he added that developers “have legitimate concerns and we’re hearing all of those concerns and we will find some way to move on as one Maryland.”

Deputy Environment Secretary Robert Summers said one of the big issues with the regulations is a “grandfather clause.” It allows for projects with final approval before May 2010 to follow previous rules as long as they break ground within two years.

Del. Marvin Holmes, D-Prince George’s, calls this a “grandfather glitch” because of the lengthy process for projects to receive final approval. He, along with others in the legislature, hopes the clause will be changed to include projects that have gotten preliminary permissions when the rules go into effect.

Summers says the department has signed off on new plans for Cecil, Harford, Calvert. St. Mary’s, Wicomico and Worcester Counties. The department hopes to have the rest of the jurisdictions completed in the next month.

Jon Laria, chair of the state’s Task Force on the Future for Growth and Development, said the state should strive to preserve the bay and environment. But he said the state must also encourage investment and avoid unnecessary burdens on local government.

“I’m not at all convinced that these goals are irreconcilable but I’m also not convinced that we’ve reconciled them yet,” Laria said.

The task force on the issue meets again Monday.