County, state face another bay cleanup showdown -- Gazette.Net


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The Frederick County Board of Commissioners may find itself in another showdown with a Maryland agency over state-imposed requirements to help reduce pollution in the Chesapeake Bay.

At their meeting Thursday, the commissioners are expected to discuss county staff recommendations for complying with a bill passed in 2012 that requires counties to set up fees to protect local watersheds and help provide money to implement stormwater management plans by July 1. While the recommendations range from $97.08 to $76.18 annually, depending on how the fee is calculated, the commissioners are expected to approve a much more nominal fee.

Commissioners’ President Blaine R. Young (R) said he believes there’s a consensus among the five commissioners to approve a very minimal fee as the county continues to negotiate with the state over the requirements.

The board would likely vote on the issue at a later date, he said.

If it were up to him, the fee would be a penny until the state can better articulate what the ultimate cost will be and what specific improvements will be done and what the changes will entail, Young said.

The staff recommended that the fee either be broken down by individual properties, by units of 2,000 square feet, or a combination of a flat rate for single-family homes and a per-unit price for other properties.

If charged by property, the fee would be $97.08, according to a county memorandum.

Under the second option, known as equivalent residential unit, the fee would be $76.18 per 2,000 square feet.

And under the third option, single-family homes would pay a fee of $77.38, while other properties would pay $77.40, the memo said.

Each of the scenarios would generate about $4.6 million in revenue per year.

Part of the problem in planning the fees is that no one knows exactly what the final cost to the county is going to be, Commissioners’ Vice President C. Paul Smith (R) said.

“That’s the strange thing about it,” he said.

The county has estimated the total cost of complying with all the state’s storm water policies at more than $1.8 billion by 2025.

Smith said he plans to vote for establishing a nominal fee.

The issue is part of a larger debate about Maryland’s Watershed Implementation Plan, designed to bring reductions in the amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus entering the bay.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency required each state in the bay region to develop an implementation plan to decrease the Total Maximum Daily Load, or TMDL, the amount of pollution the bay can receive and still meet water quality standards,

Counties were required to submit a plan explaining how they would meet their individual goals to reduce pollution under the TMDL, and the state Department of the Environment will grant permits telling what each county is required to do.

In November, the commissioners voted to give $25,000 to Dorchester County to look into a possible legal challenge on how bay cleanup costs are implemented.

Frederick was also one of the founding members of the Maryland Rural Counties Coalition, formed partly in response to concerns about the costs of cleaning up the bay.

Frederick is one of nine counties and Baltimore city that are subject to stormwater regulations that require larger jurisdictions to control storm water pollution as much as possible, requiring a permit from the MDE.

Frederick’s permit renewal is pending, but MDE spokesman Jay Apperson said there was no specific time frame for when the permits would be issued.

He declined to comment on Young and Smith’s plan for a nominal fee because it hadn’t been voted on.

The issue was similar to a recently resolved dispute with the state Department of Planning over the county’s plan for implementing state-mandated rules to control the spread of septic systems, Young said.

The commissioners approved a map that fell drastically short of the state’s expectations for which types of properties should be in which categories, or tiers.

The issue was ultimately resolved after a meeting between Young and Planning Secretary Richard Hall.

Following the meeting, the department acknowledged that Frederick’s existing planning rules met the state’s requirements, and the county received an exemption from the most restrictive parts of the law.

rmarshall@gazette.net