Septic Bill Looks To Be On Life Support

BERLIN — Legislation calling for a ban on septic systems in new development in Maryland appears to be on life support this week after several state lawmakers including the local delegation have come out strongly opposed to the measure, but the bill’s originator, Gov. Martin O’Malley has not backed down from the proposal.

At O’Malley’s urging, cross-filed bills in the House and Senate call for a ban on the use of septic system in new developments, citing the on-site sewage treatment system’s negative impact on the Chesapeake Bay and other waterways in Maryland including the coastal bays.

Many, including Senator James Mathias, said the importance of the legislation warrants further study.

“I just don’t think it’s got the energy it needs right now,” said Mathias. “I know I’m against it and I’m working in my own ways to help get it off the table this year. It looks like this could be headed to a summer study.”

While he views the legislation’s intent as admirable, Mathias said there is not enough information available to support an outright ban at this time.

“All of the science doesn’t appear to match up and the facts don’t match the allegations,” he said. “These decisions should remain with the local jurisdictions most impacted by this. This is critically important for our district, and to upset all that is not the right approach.”

For others, the intent of the legislation appears to be an authority grab by the state over land use and development issues that should lie with the local jurisdictions.

“This bill has less to do with cleaning up the bay than with taking over growth and land-use control from the counties and giving it to the state of Maryland,” said Senator E.J. Pipkin (R-36) this week on his War on Rural Maryland blog.

Meanwhile, another letter was sent last week to O’Malley, signed by seven Democrats from rural counties, including Norman Conway, expressing a desire to table the proposed legislation until the issue could be studied further.

Delegate Mike McDermott was not among the signees on the rural Democrats’ letter to the governor for obvious reasons, but the freshman Delegate has his own strong opinions about the proposed legislation.

“By now, most of us know of the attempt to supplant local development codes with strict state restrictions that would all but shut down any significant development in rural Maryland,” he said. “It has been proffered once again by representatives and a state Secretary of Planning who did not reach out to rural Maryland for comments or concerns.”