SNOW HILL — Due to lingering questions that need to be answered by the state, Worcester County Commissioners were unable to vote on whether to adopt new erosion and sediment control measures this week.
At the end of the work session Tuesday, the commissioners decided to wait and see what changes the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) makes to the bill before the county is ready to vote on whether to adopt it.
According to Commissioner Virgil Shockley, a farmer, the main problem with the bill is that it’s more of the same coming out of Annapolis and is just the latest in a stream of constant regulations. It doesn’t make sense, continued Shockley, to weigh Worcester down any further as the county has always been a prime example of how development and conservation can work together.
“I guess I could really understand it if we had been a ‘bad county’ doing certain things,” he said. “But we are, in the eyes of the state, the leaders in just about everything.”
Commissioner Louise Gulyas felt the same and asked why the state feels the need to interfere with what Worcester is already doing with sediment and erosion control.
“And since we have become the poster county for the state in handling our own development and agriculture in the right manner, why does the state seem to think that we can’t do it anymore?” she asked. “Why are you making it so difficult for the farmers? I just don’t get it.”
The state’s Bill 13-1 as it stands would be similar to what the county already has on the books, but with a few alterations. One of the most noticeable differences is the maximum fine for a violation is doubled in the bill from the current $5,000 per day cap to $10,000 per day. MDE representative Maria Warburton pointed out to the commission that while the increase may seem drastic, the number is more of a deterrent and rarely if ever will a $10,000 per day fine be imposed. There are other recourses outside of financial penalties, she added.
“You have stop work orders. You can holdup permits for other projects. There are a numerous number of things that you can do before you go to a fine,” said Warburton.
But Shockley was skeptical about the need to increase the maximum fine if it was just for show.
“That scares a lot of people. Whether you’re ever going to use it or not, it scares a lot of people,” he told Warburton.
“If you never use something, why double it?” he asked later.
Commission President Bud Church was also doubtful that Annapolis would ever give into the temptation to exercise the full power of its fines
“The state today, if they can fine you $10,000, they’re going to fine you $10,000. It’s a money grab time,” he said.
Another change will be the addition of a three-step approval process for projects that would affect sediment or erosion. This could be a headache for people, admitted Ed Tudor, director of Development Review and Permitting for the county. However, in response to an earlier question by Commissioner Jim Bunting, Tudor noted that projects that only had “minor earth disturbances” could fall under a preset standard plan that would remove many of the hoops and inconvenience.
“While this is a new requirement and could very well be burdensome in some cases, there is already a provision in the Bill to address that situation … NR 1-206(d) allows the District to adopt a standard erosion and sediment control plan for activities with minor earth disturbances such as those of concern to Commissioner Bunting,” wrote Tudor in a memo.
There are other changes as well, but Shockley stated that it was hard to get a bead on the bill when it sometimes feels like MDE isn’t sure what direction to go. The bills are often published, he said, and then brought to officials at the county level for feedback “after the fact.”
One current point of contention is with the status of exemptions for agricultural structures. While exemptions for agricultural structures were originally in Bill 13-1, they were later removed, Tudor explained. But now MDE is considering re-introducing those exemptions. Tudor recommended that the commissioners hold off on any vote on the bill until a “final resolution to the inconsistency issue in regard to agricultural structures,” is made by MDE.
The commissioners agreed and Shockley expects the bill to return to the body in the fall. Wherever MDE lands on tweaks to Bill 13-1, however, Shockley added that he is becoming increasingly frustrated with the slippery slope of new regulations coming from Annapolis and that he sees that sentiment reflected in his constituents. Mounting regulations cause distrust among county residents, he continued, and that distrust makes every bill a little bit harder to adopt.
“For every action, there is a reaction. The law of physics does apply to politics,” said Shockley.