Senate Approves Tamed Septic Bill

BERLIN — A slightly less onerous, but no less controversial, bill that would let the state dictate if and where septic systems would be allowed for development in rural areas of Maryland was passed by the Senate this week and now moves on the House for what will likely be another battle.

Last year, Gov. Martin O’Malley’s stringent legislation that would ban outright on-site septic systems for new developments in Maryland was met with fierce opposition from legislators in rural areas concerned the bill was an attempt to wrest away land-use planning and development decisions from local governments.

That bill was later withdrawn with the promise of further study and a modified version was introduced earlier in the current General Assembly session. The less restrictive version, which includes a four-tiered system defining where septic systems would be allowed, was passed by the Senate this week by a vote of 32-14 after being amended several times.

Delegate Mike McDermott has been an outspoken opponent of the legislation from the beginning and was not shy about his disapproval this week as the bill moves to the House for consideration.

“They’ve amended it some, but it’s still a bad bill,” he said. “I would imagine the only thing they could have done to make it better is if they killed it. This is another attempt by the administration to centralize government at the expense of local interests and frankly it’s disgusting.

McDermott said the one-size-fits-all approach can’t work statewide because each area has its own challenges. For that reason, land use and development decisions should largely rest with the local governments that best understand them and not by bureaucrats in Annapolis, he added.

“You can’t cookie-cutter this because every area is unique and different and the local governments are in the best position to make responsible decisions,” he said. “We all want to do good by the environment, but the county governments and their staffs are in the best position to make these calls. In rural areas, such as Worcester and Wicomico, local officials have attempted with great success in most cases to connect rural areas with public sewer systems.”

However, Sen. Jim Mathias said he voted for the bill after several amendments made it more palatable to local governments.

“The farm bureau went from being opposed to supporting it,” he said. “Initially, Worcester was fiercely opposed, but now they’re supporting it. The amended version puts control largely back with the counties where it should be. I talked to officials in Worcester, Wicomico and Somerset and they all supported the amended version.”

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