Tighter Forest, Stormwater Laws Near

SNOW HILL – More rigorous forest conservation and stormwater regulations handed down by the Maryland General Assembly in the last few years will officially become part of Worcester County’s laws next month.

The county is already required to enforce state laws, but staff feels the county’s laws should match Maryland law.

In mid-February, the County Commissioners will vote on stormwater legislation that requires new stormwater management design to mimic natural processes, mostly eliminating traditional stormwater management structures like stormwater ponds in new development.

The Maryland Stormwater Management Act requires builders to use environmental site design techniques to deal with stormwater run-off in a natural way, instead of channeling stormwater into manmade structures. Water in this kind of design is meant to travel across the land as it would without buildings.

The traditional practices, such as stormwater ponds, may only be used if the more natural method cannot.

“We are ahead of the curve here. A lot of stuff we’ve been having people do voluntarily anyway,” said Ed Tudor, director of development review and permitting.

Stormwater management plans will be open for interpretation and must be evaluated on a site-by-site basis, said Tudor.

Farm buildings also now fall under the state stormwater act.

“It’s a state law we have to implement,” said Tudor.

The county’s stormwater law would if passed become effective 60 days later, rather than the usual 45 days, to give county staff more time to educate builders and developers.

“We’re slow learners on the Eastern Shore. Can we extend it out five years?” joked Commission President Bud Church.

The county has already put if off for three years, according to Tudor.

Commissioner Bobby Cowger said the farming community was concerned about new chicken house permits being held up if the stormwater management on the site does not conform to the state law.

“These guys are really concerned about this,” Cowger said.

“It‘s just a timing issue. They’d be able to avoid it,” said Tudor.

A bond, under the Maryland Stormwater Management Act, can take the place of the pre-built stormwater system, Cowger noted, but bonds are not an easy solution.

“It’s a nightmare trying to get a bond,” Cowger said.

Commissioner Louise Gulyas was concerned about the impact on the poultry farmers.

“It’s going to kill the chicken business,” said Gulyas.

Commissioner Judy Boggs said, “It’s been done to us. We need to look at the ramifications,”

Tudor said it’s clear the county must adhere to the new requirements.

“We do it locally or they do it for us,” Tudor said.

The new forestry law will subject builders to paying forestry conservation fees in lieu after clearing 20,000 square feet of forest, instead of the previous limit of 40,000 square feet. Building sites, which clear more than 20,000 square feet of forest, will pay a fee per square foot over the limit into a forest conservation fees in lieu fund.

That fee has also changed, doubling from 15 cents per square foot of cleared forest to 30 cents per square foot.

 Commissioner Virgil Shockley objected to the change, saying the 20,000-square-foot limit is far too small. He refused to add his name as a sponsor of the bill.

“I’m not putting it on there, No way,” said Shockley. “It’s a matter of principle.”