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Economy Impacts Stormwater Debate

Proposals to roll back regulations compete with measures to pay for cleanup

By PAMELA WOOD, Staff Writer

Annapolis Capital, published 03/03/10

There's a big, dirty problem plaguing the Chesapeake Bay that's on the minds of state lawmakers this year: stormwater pollution.

On one hand, lawmakers might establish a tax to pay for stormwater cleanup. And on the other hand, they might delay or weaken stepped-up stormwater control requirements at new developments.

"I'm hoping that this year is the charm," state Sen. Jamie Raskin, D-Montgomery, told lawmakers in Annapolis on Tuesday as he pushed for the tax.

Last year, the tax cleared a Senate committee, but died on the Senate floor. It went nowhere in the House of Delegates.
Stormwater is the only source of pollution to the Chesapeake Bay that is increasing, and it's one of the most difficult pollution sources to reduce.

When rain falls, it washes along rooftops, roads and parking lots and picks up pollutants that it carries to streams and creeks that feed into the Chesapeake.

Stormwater can carry sediment that smothers oysters and blocks light from reaching underwater grasses; it also delivers nutrients to the bay that cause harmful algae blooms that suck life-sustaining oxygen from the water.
Many of the state's developed areas were built before stormwater controls were required; other areas have controls now considered substandard, such as stormwater holding ponds.

But as lawmakers try to deal with stormwater pollution, they're also running into concerns about the economy: Can property owners and developers afford to pay more to clean up stormwater?

Raskin's bill would require cities and counties to levy a fee on property owners to pay for stormwater fixes.
It would be up to the cities and counties to decide how much the fee would be and how it would be spent.
"All of us are part of the problem ... and we should pay according to the portion of the problem we cause," Raskin told members of the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee last night.

Susan Mitchell, a lobbyist for the Maryland Association of Realtors, said homeowners already are burdened by falling home prices and foreclosures.

"Real estate is contributing its fair share," she said.

Erik Michelsen, executive director of the South River Federation, said statewide there's $20 billion worth of environmental damage to undo that's been caused by stormwater. The fee would give cities and counties a dedicated funding source to help work through that backlog.

The city of Annapolis already has a stormwater fee, but the County Council voted down a fee.
As lawmakers consider the new fee, they're also considering rolling back pollution control requirements for developers.
State lawmakers passed a bill to increase the requirements in 2007 and the Maryland Department of the Environment is set to start enforcing them in May.

Some developers say the requirements - such as using more natural stormwater techniques like rain gardens - are too onerous and expensive for in-town projects and redevelopment sites. Developers have argued they'll have to put projects on hold or abandon in-town projects for suburban sites.

Sen. Richard F. Colburn, R-Eastern Shore, is sponsoring a bill to roll back the new rules until 2020. That bill is destined to die - the committee's chairwoman flatly said a delay of 10 years is "definitely not the right number" - but another bill that would change only certain parts of the new rules is also making its rounds.

In fact, many representatives from environmental, real estate and business groups were absent from the Senate stormwater hearings Tuesday.

They were across the street at the House of Delegates, participating in a meeting to discuss the issues with the stormwater rules. The House is scheduled to hold a hearing on the stormwater rules next week