County Vows To Fight Septic Laws

SNOW HILL — A series of unpopular septic system regulations passed last year despite the opposition of Worcester and several other counties, but, the Worcester County Commissioners promised Tuesday that they will continue to fight the legislation in hopes of eventual change.

“I don’t think this is over,” said Commissioner Virgil Shockley. “I don’t think we can afford to let this be over. I think this is one we go to our graves fighting.”

The new regulations would require the use of Best Available Technology (BAT) in all new septic systems either inside or outside the coastal bays or Chesapeake Bay’s Critical Area, which is typically 100 feet from water. BAT would also be mandatory in any replacement systems within that Critical Area and required in replacement systems inside or outside of the critical area if the new system is larger than the original.

In practical terms, this means that BAT would be needed when building a new home with a septic or adding an expansion to a home that also enlarges the current septic system. While using BAT does reduce nitrogen, it is expensive and overkill in properties outside of the critical area, according to Shockley.

Shockley also argued that the code is indirect discouragement for having a larger family and expanding a house.

“Talk about birth control,” he joked. “This is a heck of a way to do it.”

On top of the bill being strenuous and expensive, Shockley felt that it was also written in a confusing manner that could make it hard for the average citizen to comprehend.

“When you read this, you need a shot of Jack Daniels and something else to understand it,” he said.

Environmental Programs Director Bob Mitchell told the commission that he was “severely disappointed” in how the final regulations turned out and noted that Worcester and many other counties were opposed to what they saw as stifling and unrealistically expensive legislation.

“We’ve not been shy in advocating for fairness and rules that make sense … we threw everything and the kitchen sink at [Annapolis],” he said.

While Mitchell was initially optimistic that the outpouring of opposition would cause the state to relax the regulations, even slightly, the code was passed in its original form last Friday.

Commission President Bud Church called the legislation “grossly unfair” and expressed the view that state lawmakers are simply ignoring the voices on the Eastern Shore.

“It’s almost like taxation without representation,” he said.

Actual representatives for the Eastern Shore, like Delegate Mike McDermott (R-38B), held similar views but reinforced the need to never let the issue drop.

“When preservation gets in the way of our liberty, we all have to get up and shout how we feel,” he said.

If Worcester was the lone voice against the regulations, things might be different. However, Commissioner Judy Boggs reminded everyone that other counties, not just on the Eastern Shore but across the bridge, are getting serious heartburn from the new code.

“All of the counties are having problems with this,” she said.

Even if the commission is successful and the legislation is changed, it likely won’t happen for several months. In the meantime, the commissioners urged developers who have projects that require septic systems in the works to move forward quickly. The new regulations won’t come into effect until Jan. 1, explained Mitchell, and any developer who receives a building permit before then can avoid the mandatory BAT clause.

It should be noted that, in contrast to the feelings of the county and a number of realtor and developer associations, the new septic regulations are supported by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.