Cumberland Times-News

Local News

February 11, 2013

Delegates seek repeal of septic system rules

CUMBERLAND — A bill to repeal the state’s existing four-tiered septic laws has been filed with many co-sponsors from rural areas of the state.

Current law limits development by tightly regulating the size of housing developments that can be placed on septic systems. Almost all larger developments must be placed on public sewer systems, and only smaller and modest-sized developments can be placed on septic. Some rural leaders believe the current law is too restrictive.

Local Delegates Wendell Beitzel and LeRoy Myers Jr. are among the co-sponsors of this legislation.

The Maryland Department of Legislative Services has prepared a fiscal and policy note for the repeal bill.

Because the bill would repeal restrictions on development, both state agencies and local governments that ring up income from fees and taxes associated with land sales, property taxes and business development could benefit.

“Local government revenues increase to the extent that the collection of local taxes and fees associated with the development, sale or value of new residential property increases,” the DLS said.

However, some state costs for funding of Chesapeake Bay cleanup could increase, the fiscal and policy note said. That’s because repeal would slow down the bay cleanup process and mean the state would have to devote other resources to cleanup lost because of relaxing restrictions on development.

The Maryland Rural Counties Coalition has identified the septic system law as one of the issues on which the western counties forming the coalition are unified. The coalition believes limits on the ability to put new developments on septic systems may impair economic growth in rural counties.

Environmental advocates have said they support the existing law.

“Legislation passed last session requires local jurisdictions to protect their rural lands from large-scale development on highly polluting septic systems. By the end of 2012, each county needs to show that rural lands are kept rural and development is instead directed to designated growth areas. It is these maps that we have been following closely. Does the county protect rural lands or pave them over,” said Dru Schmidt-Perkins, executive director of 1000 Friends of Maryland.

In Allegany County, minor subdivisions are allowed up to seven lots on septic.

“Current projections show Maryland losing over 400,000 acres of rural lands to sprawl development over the next 15 years. That is a future we simply cannot afford,” said Schmidt-Perkins. “This mapping effort is an opportunity for the counties to change that future into one with a stable tax base, thriving agriculture, and clean rivers and streams.”

Tier I areas are local growth areas and should be on water and sewer except for limited exceptions, according to the final report of the Task Force on Sustainable Growth and Wastewater Disposal. The report was issued in December. These areas also are priority funding areas. Tier II areas are outside priority funding areas “...that is clearly defined in the county or municipal comprehensive plan.”

Tier III areas are “areas not planned for public sewer nor planned for preservation, with a limited amount of development potential. These areas should not be considered for state land preservation funding in most cases,” the reports said. Septic should be restricted in these areas and most restricted in Tier IV areas planned for rural preservation.

Contact Matthew Bieniek at mbieniek@times-news.com.

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