Maryland Senate Gives Preliminary Approval to Septic Bill

The Maryland Senate gave preliminary approval to a bill that regulates where new residential septic systems can be installed, but some say amendments weaken the measure to control development.

Senators considered the bill Friday evening, amending it to give local jurisdictions ultimate authority on where large residential subdivisions that use septic systems can be located.

The legislation is a priority of Gov. Martin O'Malley and has gone through several incarnations since the Democrat championed the issue last year. It requires counties create a four-tiered system limiting septics, especially in the most rural parts of the state.

The amended bill, however, does not give the state any control over the plans. If the state department of planning disagrees with the way a county has designed its tiers, the county will be required to take public input, but not mandated to make state suggested changes.

That dramatically weakened the legislation and opens the door for counties to develop in areas state planning officials want to preserve, according to Sen. Brian Frosh, D-Montgomery.

“We can't afford to chase the last townhouse out in the last cornfield with roads and sewers and utilities,” Frosh said. “We don't have enough money. We can't tax people hard enough to pay for it even if we wanted to. It doesn't make sense environmentally. It doesn't make sense from a fiscal standpoint.”

The amended method for developing the tiers, crafted by the O'Malley administration and presented by Sen. Thomas Middleton, D-Charles, mirror a late 1990s smart growth initiative in which counties are asked to meet development requirements to access state funds.

Joseph Bryce, O'Malley's chief legislative council, said discretionary state funding and programs are incentive for counties to fall in line with the plan.

“You're going to have some jurisdictions that are more inclined to work with you than others, but frankly our experience hasn't been outright revolt,” Bryce said.

A final vote on the bill is expected early next week. If the Senate passes the measure, it will then move to the House of Delegates.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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