SNOW HILL — A vote on a new state erosion and sediment control bill will be delayed two weeks to allow for additional comments to be submitted to the Worcester County Commissioners.
Concerns from the few individuals that did speak during the public hearing for the bill Tuesday revolved around the belief the issue was not advertised aggressively enough, though county administration insists that the law was followed to the letter as far as public notification.
Local farmer Harold Scrimgeour supplied the first comments during the hearing and made it clear from the start that he wanted the county to put the brakes on the process of adopting the bill, which is numbered 13-1.
“I wish we could delay this, that’s my whole goal with this, for 30 or 60 days,” he said.
Scrimgeour had no shortage of complaints regarding the language of the bill, sections of which he referred to as “very arbitrary.” He was concerned that the bill was too stringent in trying to balance protecting against erosion with the day-to-day operation of a farm.
“You cannot operate a farm and not disturb 5,000 square feet someday out of the year; it may be as simple as taking the scraper blade on the back of your tracker and grading out your drive-way,” said Scrimgeour.
The bill also includes language allowing for regular inspections to ensure compliance as well as inspections after complaints. Scrimgeour told the commissioners that, while the county has had erosion plans in place before, the current language in Bill 13-1 leaves him uneasy.
Resident Kellee Kennett held a similar view and said that she worried environmental advocacy groups will find ways to abuse Bill 13-1.
“It concerns me that they will come running back to the Eastern Shore looking for opportunities to rake people through the coals once again,” she said.
Both Scrimgeour and Kennett said that they had trouble just learning when the public hearing would be held and that because of that difficulty the county should consider waiting on a vote until more comments can be received.
“So that’s my first concern, that this wasn’t properly advertised to those of us who don’t get a free local newspaper and see the advertising,” said Kennett.
Notice of the public hearing on Bill 13-1 was posted on the county’s website, Scrimgeour acknowledged, but not where such hearings are usually noted.
“It was not advertised on the website’s public hearing section,” he said.
Brooks Clayville, a member of the County Planning Commission, also asked that a vote be delayed until more input is heard, especially from the area farmers who will be impacted by the erosion and sediment controls in the bill. He added that Bill 13-1 is just the next in a “non-stop onslaught of new laws” crafted in Annapolis and has to be handled carefully.
Commission President Bud Church admitted that he was disappointed that so few comments were made on a bill so wide-reaching.
“I’m concerned that we didn’t have better participation,” he said.
But the state law for advertising a public hearing was followed and then some, according to Chief Administrative Officer Gerald Mason.
“This is a law and it was followed exactly … it was properly advertised,” he said.
Assistant Administrative Officer Kelly Shannon elaborated, telling the commission that notice of the hearing was posted in five local newspapers on two separate dates. While the hearing may not have been listed in the traditional spot on the county website, all of that is simply extra service for residents. It was mentioned under this week’s meeting agenda packet.
While the law for advertising was followed, Commissioner Jim Bunting still felt that more time should be given to allow comments for those who may have been out of the loop for whatever reason.
“We don’t have to be in a hurry,” he said.
Bunting and Church also both felt that Commissioner Virgil Shockley, who was absent, should be in attendance for any vote on the bill since Shockley is also a farmer and has a unique perspective on the issue.
County Attorney Sonny Bloxom recommended keeping the public comment period open for the next two weeks, allowing concerned parties to submit written remarks. He did not advise a second public hearing, however.
Ed Tudor, director of development review and permitting, told the commission that whatever comments they receive on Bill 13-1 they need to keep in mind that they cannot make major alterations to the document to make it more flexible for Worcester.
“Can you make modifications to it? Sure you can. But they cannot be lesser requirements than the state. You can’t change definitions to define away the things Mr. Scrimgeour is referring to,” said Tudor.
The commission is scheduled to vote on the bill at their next meeting.