SNOW HILL — More than one Worcester County Commissioner has labeled House Bill 1107, which deals with “Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Protection,” as one of the worst bills they’ve ever seen.
However, one commissioner cautioned that the bill was only being pushed forward in an attempt to distract attention away from a much more harmful bill waiting on the sideline.
“Obviously, there are a number of problems I see with the [Sustainable Growth] bill,” said Development Review and Permits Director Ed Tudor.
One of the major concerns he highlighted was the limitation on subdividing property written into the legislature. If the bill passes into law, anyone wishing to subdivide their property after July 1, 2011 would only be able to do so once. Meaning that if, for example, parents had 40 acres and wished to grant their first child 10 acres, they would still be able to do so. However, if they wanted to deed 10 more acres to a second child several years in the future, they would not be able to. The new bill would only allow a subdivision to happen once and then never again while the current code in place allows several.
“There’s a devaluation of your property,” said Commissioner Virgil Shockley, referring to the subdivision clause.
Besides the strict limitation of subdividing, which several commissioners pointed out would be drastically less fair to farmers with hundreds of acres than to those living in towns and cities, there are other clauses regarding shared facility sewerage systems and nitrogen removal technology. Again, many members of the commission expressed the opinion that these clauses unfairly target rural counties like Worcester.
“It will kill us,” said Shockley, who added that if the bill goes into effect it would “destroy farming in Worcester County.”
“I don’t think it was well thought out to begin with,” Tudor said of the bill.
“It’s not well thought out at all,” agreed Commissioner Judy Boggs.
It was mentioned that adhering to the bill would likely mean a complete overhaul of the county’s Comprehensive Plan.
“We’d probably have to redo at least one-third of the zoning code in Worcester County,” Shockley stated.
Commission President Bud Church summed up the general consensus on the bill.
“This would be devastating,” he asserted, voicing the opinion that if the bill passed into law it would “drastically affect the way we do business in Worcester County.”
While all of the commissioners decried the piece of legislature and agreed to oppose its passing, according to Shockley, there’s a much bigger threat to rural counties in the form of another bill.
“You’ve got a diversion going on,” he said.
Shockley pointed out that there was another bill getting ready to be introduced sometime in the near future which could potentially impact anyone in Maryland with a septic system.
“That bill has just been sitting there,” he said.
That piece of legislature deals with what Shockley called “enhanced septic systems”.
If passed, the bill might require certain properties with personal septic systems to install “pre-treatment” systems. On top of that, Shockley explained that a significant number of personal septic tanks, specifically the common 250-gallon variety, would not be able to work with the pre-treatment system, meaning a newer, larger septic tank would need to be installed.
“It’s completely changing your system,” he said.
Shockley brought up the fact that the Sustainable Growth Bill the commissioners discussed Tuesday and the future bill that could affect septic systems are both part of a group of bills which attempt to protect the Chesapeake Bay. However, Shockley claims that those laws could end up hurting rural counties more than helping the bay.
“It’s one piece at a time,” he said, referring to the string of past- and future-legislation. “This thing has nothing to do with preserving agriculture.”
While the commissioners expressed doubt over the direction the Sustainable Growth bills were heading, Governor Martin O’Malley displayed support for it. In a letter written to Maggie McIntosh, the Chair of the House Environmental Matters Committee, O’Malley asserts that steps need to be taken to counter septic pollution to the bay.
“We need to look collectively at what works in Maryland to address these issues,” O’Malley said.
It’s still unclear at this point if some kind of compromise will be reached between protecting the bay and protecting the rights of those in rural counties.
“Where we wind up with amendments, who knows?” said Tudor.
Currently, though, the commissioners are not happy with the bill and are planning to oppose it. Additionally, a suggestion was made to discuss the issue with the representatives of other rural counties in Maryland.
“I do know we are not alone in opposition of this,” said Boggs.