Wind Farm, Septic Ban Headed For Summer Study

BERLIN — The Maryland General Assembly wrapped its 2011 session at midnight on Monday with hundreds of pieces of legislation passed and some left on the table, but by and large, but by and large the local delegation says it was successful in pushing through several bills of local importance.

Some battles were won and others lost during the 90-day session, during which the budget and the lasting recession dominated the proceedings, but there were also weighty social issues introduced and acted upon by state lawmakers. Throughout the session, hundreds of bills of local importance were passed while others did not see the light of day.

The following is a quick look at some of the legislation germane to the lower shore.

Offshore Wind Headed Toward Summer Study

Gov. Martin O’Malley pushed legislation that would have expedited the effort to develop a vast offshore wind farm off the coast of Ocean City, but the legislation died when questions arose about the potential impact on the ratepayers and the use of public funds to subsidize private industry. While most agree with the need for cleaner, greener, self-sufficient energy sources, state lawmakers by and large weren’t ready to commit public funding to the project on the backs of the ratepayers. Subsequently, the legislation was shelved for this session and is headed to summer study for further review.

“Wind needs more work,” said Senator Jim Mathias this week. “Philosophically, I was on this bill early, but when it came around to how to pay for it, that’s when questions arose. We have to figure out how to pay less, make it more efficient and make it cleaner. We haven’t been able yet to make that case.”

Delegate Mike McDermott said the governor’s proposal was too much too fast. He said he was working with the administration to support smaller wind farms on agricultural land on the lower Shore.

“I was glad to see that offshore wind bill die, but that doesn’t mean I don’t support the concept,” he said. “I’m working with the administration on these things that don’t require massive public subsidies to work. It gives people more confidence on a larger level when there is success on a smaller level.

Septic System Ban Shelved

Another one of O’Malley’s initiatives that would have greatly impacted Worcester and Wicomico counties was a proposed ban of septic systems on new development in an effort to gain protections for the Chesapeake and Coastal Bays watersheds.

The governor’s proposal, and the subsequent bills introduced, raised quite a stink, so to speak, across the Eastern Shore in February, but the bills never made it out of their respective committees and the governor backed off the proposal as the session hit its midpoint.

Shore lawmakers decried the legislation over concern about the loss of local control on planning and growth issues, and perhaps more importantly, a serious decline in property values in rural areas.

“I think we need to leave local zoning issues in local hands,” said Mathias this week. “Nobody wants to preserve land values more than the property owner.”

Minimum Wage Hike Defeated

Another bill that certainly captured the attention of local residents and business owners was legislation introduced that would increase the minimum wage in Maryland incrementally over three years from the current $7.25 to $10 by 2013.

The intent was to put more money in the pockets of the state’s workforce, which, in turn, would help stimulate the economy through increased consumer spending. However, local lawmakers viewed the proposed wage hike as another burden on small businesses struggling to stay afloat and simply make payroll during the current recession.

“This could result in the loss of a lot of jobs,” said Mathias when the bill was introduced. “Right now, there are a lot of people making nothing an hour and we need to get them back working and earning a wage.”

McDermott agreed the proposed bill, which did not make it out of committee, flew in the face of job creation.

“Can you imagine what this would do to Ocean City and all of those entry level and seasonal jobs?,” he said. “That’s not a jobs creator, that’s a jobs killer.”

Scoot Coupe Bill Approved

With a bill tailored specifically to Ocean City, Mathias was able to get legislation passed that will allow “scoot coupes,” or small, three-wheeled passenger vehicles, to be used in the bike-bus lane and other areas of the resort.

First introduced in the resort back in 2009, the low-riding, two-passenger hybrids didn’t fit neatly into any of Ocean City’s established definitions for scooters, mini-bikes and other vehicles and the Mayor and Council went back and forth on if and where they should be allowed. A local business owner invested thousands in the hybrid vehicles on the belief they were allowed on resort roadways, only to learn later they were not.

After considerable back and forth, the town’s elected officials approved their use in the bus-bike lane and other areas, prompting Mathias to introduce legislation to approve the scoot coupes.

Pete Gikurias, co-owner of Fun Cycles on 26th Street, pushed for the legislation after the Mayor and Council came around to an amended approval.

“He invested his money when he was told they were okay, then he was told they weren’t okay,” said Mathias. “I told him I wasn’t going to go against the wishes of the Mayor and Council, but if they say it’s a good idea, I’ll go to bat for you.”