By Megan Poinski
Some of the deeper issues underlying PlanMaryland – like problems with the economic and environmental issues cited in the comprehensive state development plan proposed by Gov. Martin O’Malley – took center stage at a forum sponsored by the Carroll County Board of Commissioners in Pikesville.
PlanMaryland, which sets out the basis for planning future development in the state, has been extremely controversial. Maryland Department of Planning officials say that the plan is a roadmap for future growth, and gives the state no more powers or authority than it has today. Rural officials have complained that the plan tries to take power from county officials, and that the plan gives preference to urban areas.
Monday’s event, attended by more than 100 interested people and officials, looked beyond the problems rural areas have with putting the plan into action, and disputed some of the claims made in the plan.
Accuracy of data questioned
Ed Braddy, executive director of the American Dream Coalition, brought up several problems he saw with the draft plan.
“It is unrepresentative of the people,” he said. “It uses inaccurate and skewed data, and it does not recognize trade-offs. It will lead to a diminished quality of life that is neither smart nor inevitable.”
Braddy said that the plan puts too much emphasis on “smart growth” – building homes in a contiguous area with restaurants and shopping within walking distance and close to transit. Based on calculations Braddy did using guidelines presented in the report, he said that this could mean the plan calls for more than 16,000 people living per square mile. Currently, there are about 3,000 people living per square mile in Baltimore.
He said that the report also makes vehicles appear to be much too expensive, and makes the benefits of mass transit seem much too great. The plan cites a AAA study for the costs of driving – about $8,600 per year – which Braddy said is only accurate for people leasing new cars and driving them 15,000 miles a year. People driving older cars at the average 11,000 miles that Marylanders drive each year, actually pay $2,566 to $5,300 per year to drive, Braddy said.
Meanwhile, if people do not use public transportation, busses and light rail lines can create more pollution and cause more traffic congestion, Braddy said.
“This biased selection of data leads to flawed assertions and policies,” he said.
Planning secretary responded at meeting
Richard Hall, the state’s secretary of planning, spent the day listening to the plan being criticized and answered questions at the forum’s end. He repeatedly said that the plan is a working document, and is a game plan for the state to coordinate future development. PlanMaryland takes several existing programs and organizes what should be done with them to have sensible future growth, Hall told the crowd. There isn’t even a brochure that explains some of these planning programs.
“This is not some sort of attack on local government planning,” Hall said. “They have plans, and have had their plans for decades. They implement them through many ways, like zoning, water and sewer, infrastructure.”
Other speakers made presentations about some of the issues that underlie PlanMaryland. These included:
- Lord Christopher Monckton, a one-time science adviser to former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Monckton researched the global warming and rising tides claims in the report. He said that global warming rates are greatly exaggerated, and that the waters of the Chesapeake Bay are not really rising. The land is sinking.
- Wendell Cox, a senior fellow at the Institut Economique de Montreal. He talked about the growth of suburbs, and how more people driving vehicles and less emphasis on transit leads to more economic growth.
- Patrick Moffitt, a former member of the White House Committee on Environmental Technology. Moffitt looked at unintended consequences of the plan – and the fact that there is little hard evidence to back up some of the claims about nitrogen pollution.
- George Frigon, the co-author of the EPA Manual for Small Community Wastewater Treatment, researched what the state is saying about septic system pollution. Frigon said that the state’s pollution numbers comparing septic to sewer waste are inexplicably skewed to make septic systems look worse.
To close out the program, Hall said that he knows that a new statewide plan may seem somewhat disconcerting. However, he said, he is willing to talk to anyone to try to allay concerns and explain it.
“We really are trying to use existing state programs as wisely as we can and give everyone a chance to see how all of these things come together,” Hall said.
Carroll County Commissioner Richard Rothschild, who has been opposed to the plan, said the commissioners want the governor to reconsider the plan as it currently written, and write a plan that strikes the correct balance and ensures local autonomy. Rothschild said that he is optimistic, considering that Hall and other representatives from Gov. Martin O’Malley’s administration attended the program.
“We intend to continue to work collaboratively with them,” Rothschild said. “It is one thing to talk about the plan. It is another to roll up our sleeves to get down to business. We need a serious work session to work on this.”