State Green Fund Gets Overhaul, Includes Bays

ANNAPOLIS – The controversial Chesapeake Bay Green Fund,
criticized in Worcester because it would charge local citizens to help clean up
the Chesapeake Bay without returning any money to the local Atlantic coastal
bays, underwent a major transformation late yesterday including a change in the
name to the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Coastal Bays Green Fund.

The bill as initially submitted basically established an
onerous new fee based on the amount of impervious surface created by new
construction throughout the state with the new revenue source dedicated to
clean-up efforts in the Chesapeake Bay. Two weeks ago, the County Commissioners
officially opposed the bill because it essentially taxed local homeowners,
builders, developers and even farmers to a certain extent with none of the
revenue returned to help preserve and clean up the coastal bays.

Under pressure from a variety of sources, the bill was
amended several times over the last week to address the concerns of rural areas
in the state including Worcester, which felt it was being unfairly assessed
fees that would never be returned to the county. The most significant change to
House Bill 1220 announced late yesterday is a change in the title to the
“Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Coastal Bays Green Fund.”

“The name has been changed, which signals a significant
alteration in the overall intent of the bill,” said Delegate Rudy Cane (D-37A),
who serves on the Environmental Matters committee. “The phrase ‘Atlantic
Coastal Bays’ has been inserted everywhere in the bill where it says Chesapeake
Bay.”

Beyond the superficial name and language changes, the bill
also underwent significant changes in many other areas. The most important
change locally is that 30 percent of the revenue collected by the proposed fees
would be returned to the jurisdictions from which they were collected. For
Worcester, that means 30 percent of the money collected for the Green Fund
would be returned for use in the coastal bays for a variety of uses including
the continued effort to eliminate failing septic systems and connect the county
with public sewer systems for example.

Cane said the money returned to Worcester County could be
put to many uses intent on improving the coastal bays.

“The new language increases the amount of latitude in
terms of local control,” he said. “At least some of the money collected by this
will be returned to the counties and municipalities it came from to use at
their discretion.”

Another significant change is the fee structure for the
Green Fund. The bill as initially submitted would charge 25 cents per square
foot for new impervious surface within designated Priority Funding Areas (PFAs)
and a whopping $2 per square foot for new impervious surface outside PFAs.

On a typical 2,000 square-foot home, residents would pay
$500 for new construction inside the PFA and $4,000 for new construction inside
the PFA. The new language inserted yesterday would charge a flat 50 cents per
square foot fee, which would greatly reduce the impact, especially in Worcester
which does not have much land designated as a PFA.

Although the details were somewhat sketchy as of late
yesterday, the proposed changes appear to be good news for Worcester and the
bays.

“If these amendments are improved and the changes to this
bill are implemented, this should be much more palatable to the County
Commissioners and the people of Worcester County,” said Delegate Jim Mathias.

Commissioner Virgil Shockley, who strongly opposed the bill
as first written, agreed the changes could make it amenable to Worcester.

“If
this is true, it’s obviously good news for the county,” he said. “I was very
concerned for local residents and the building and farming communities, but if
these changes are made, this could turn out to be a good thing for this
county.” 

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