SNOW HILL — Citing unrealistic costs, the Worcester County Commission voted unanimously Tuesday to protest the state’s Phase II Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP) for Worcester.
“Everybody acknowledges that the cost of this is just outrageous,” said Director of Development Review and Permits Ed Tudor.
While the WIP is a multi-step, multi-year plan for removing nitrogen from the Chesapeake Bay, Tudor asserted that Annapolis has deemed the project a priority and is attempting to get the ball rolling as soon as possible.
“The State of Maryland and our governor have been very proactive in this regard,” he said.
That itself is not an issue, said Tudor, as much as the fact that the state isn’t going to be paying for any of the clean-up efforts it is demanding.
“A lot of this falls back to the towns … there are a number of ways these things could be addressed. None of them are popular,” he told the commission.
Some of the steps that the WIP requires include conserving an additional 95 acres of forest per year, the removal of 577 acres of impervious urban surfaces and the installation of 283 acres of urban forest buffer. In a memo to the county, Tudor notes that the addition of 1,859 septic systems that the WIP is also calling for would cost over $18.5 million.
“The money for septics by itself is astronomical,” said Commissioner Virgil Shockley.
Shockley called the requirements of the WIP “beyond crazy” and argued that, while the plan may look good on paper, it’s not realistic. He also asserted that the plan won’t work without every state near the bay onboard. If just Maryland is pushing for nitrogen reduction, he said nothing will ever be accomplished.
“What we do down here doesn’t mean a damn thing as long as Pennsylvania doesn’t comply,” Shockley said.
Commission President Bud Church felt likewise.
“I don’t think the state legislatures realize that water flows downhill,” he said.
Commissioner Louise Gulyas questioned whether it was fair to make Worcester bend over backwards to meet the state WIP even though the county is, in her opinion, relatively guilt free when it comes to polluting the bay.
“We didn’t dirty it,” she said. “Baltimore city dirtied it.”
Worcester isn’t alone in its frustration at the WIP, according to Tudor.
“The funding is absolutely the biggest problem for us and everybody,” he said.
Commissioner Judy Boggs suggested that the commission attempt to reach out to other counties as well as state delegates to form a united front that might be able to sway lawmakers. The rest of the commission agreed.
“I’m tired of being the nice county down here,” said Gulyas.
Tudor added, “Certainly I feel the need to say something at this time … We can send a letter up to them. Basically, we can say whatever we want to them.”
Tudor added that comments will need to be in by July 2.
Given the short timeframe, Commissioner Madison Bunting stressed the need to jump into the project.
“This is the 11th hour for us to make a decision,” he told the commission.
Bunting pointed out that the county has seen the WIP coming since April and can’t afford to rely on the state making the project more flexible for counties or more affordable.
“It is another unfunded state mandate,” said Church.
Bunting suggested that the commission form a workgroup to examine the WIP and come up with reasonable substitutes for some of the least reasonable demands being made by Annapolis. The commission was receptive to the idea.