“It’s No. 1 on my agenda and other counties are talking about it, too,” said Frederick County Commissioners’ President Blaine R. Young (R). “Counties are dealing with pension and other budget problems, and trying to figure out the basics of how they can deal with this. To me, this is catastrophic.”
The Frederick County Board of Commissioners has also asked for an emergency meeting with its state delegation, hopefully within the next three weeks, Young said.
In the meantime, the Maryland Association of Counties is sponsoring several forums on state-mandated changes to stormwater and septic systems during the weeklong conference.
The state plan is part of a larger effort initiated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to clean up the bay over the next 13 years, as required by the federal Clean Water Act. The Chesapeake Bay watershed encompasses 64,000 square miles, and cleanup efforts involve six states and Washington, D.C.
In addition to learning more about the issues at the MACo conference, the Maryland Rural Counties Coalition, a lobbying group founded in December 2011 by four Western Maryland counties, will continue to advocate for keeping state money designated for the bay cleanup from being raided to help balance the state budget, according to its lobbyist, William R. Miles.
The group’s founding jurisdictions, Frederick, Allegany, Carroll and Washington counties, were joined by Cecil County in March and Dorchester County last week. Annual dues of $5,000 from each county help pay lobbyists Bruce Bereano and Miles to oppose programs and legislation members don’t like, most related to fees and taxes.
Maryland’s estimated cost to abide by pollution reductions mandated by the EPA is $11 billion, raising the question of affordability, Miles said.
In the 2012 session, the coalition supported a bill that would allow voters to decide to keep money from two funds dedicated to bay cleanup from being diverted to the state’s general fund. The bill failed, but Miles said he will continue to lobby for its passage to help defray the costs of the bay cleanup.
“Sometimes you have to knock on the door more than once. The Chesapeake Bay funds should be protected,” Miles said.
The Bay Restoration Fund, or “flush tax,” raised $371 million since it began in 2005. In recent years, the state transferred $290 million to the state’s general fund and plans to replace it in increments.
The state also established the Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays Trust Fund in 2009, funded by portions of the gasoline tax and vehicle rental-use tax.
Between fiscal 2009 and 2012, the state diverted $100.3 million from the $179 million trust fund to the general fund. There is no payback provision, Miles said.
“If you have an $11 billion pricetag, how are you ever going to meet that if the only two funds dedicated solely to the Chesapeake Bay restoration effort are being used to balance the budget?” Miles said. “It makes no sense.”
Del. Galen Clagett (D-Dist. 3A) of Frederick said the state needs flexibility to be able to balance its budget, and that Miles is “oversimplifying the issue.”
On Aug. 9, the county commissioners heard an hourlong presentation on bay cleanup legislation and new regulations imposed by Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), in which the costs to the county associated with the new rules was put at $935 million through 2025, according to Shannon Moore, manager of the county Office of Sustainability and Environmental Resources.
Moore calculated in increments the amount each sector addressed in pollution reduction goals — stormwater, septic, wastewater and agriculture —- would cost by 2025 for the county, and specifically for Frederick County government.
Frederick County, municipalities, the State Highway Administration and other entities would pay a total of $1.88 billion to meet the goals established by the state, according to Moore. Frederick County government alone would be responsible for $935,641,347 of that, according to Moore’s fact sheets.
But, according to Clagett, who supports the state’s efforts to meet the EPA’s Clean Water Act, the huge numbers being thrown out are “hypothetical.”
“Everyone’s getting their knickers in a twist before they have real answers, and now it’s becomes a political football,” Clagett said.
Some of the costs of implementing the pollution reduction strategies also fall on builders and developers.
“The building industry is scared to death,” according to Young.
All new development requiring a construction general permit for stormwater must offset pollutants from future growth starting Dec. 31, 2014, by either trading or purchasing credits through the state's Agricultural Nutrient Trading program.
Nutrient trading is the buying and selling of pollution reduction credits, allowing one source to maintain its regulatory obligations by using pollution reductions created by another source, according to MDE’s website. Developers may have the option to pay a fee in lieu of producing offsets.
The costs are estimated by the Frederick County Soil Conservation District to be between $10,000 and $17,000 to offset 1 pound of nitrogen.
A new home generates between 2 and 20 pounds of nitrogen, said Dusty Rood, board member of the Frederick County Land Use Council. Thus, the cost to offset future pollutants would be between $20,000 and $250,000 per new house.
“We are just learning this now, and are putting the pieces together. It really is mind-boggling,” Rood said.