Wicomico Mulls State’s Tier Plan

SALISBURY — Like many neighboring counties, the Wicomico County Council is reviewing the potential effects of adopting a statewide septics bill that would require land to be assigned one of four tiers.

“This bill is very complex,” said Transportation and Long Range Planning Director Keith Hall. “It’s not a one-day read.”

The driving force behind the bill is an effort to encourage development on existing water and sewer and to shy away from adding more septics to Wicomico. The end goal of having less septics is to improve water quality in the Chesapeake Bay, which Hall said Annapolis has put on a “pollution diet.”
However, while Hall felt that there are “pros and cons” to the bill, he acknowledged that its restrictiveness could harm individual land owners.

“During the last meeting, we heard several concerns,” he told the council.

Tiers II and III would allow major subdivisions to be built on septic systems in either a limited capacity or after a public hearing and approval of the Planning Commission, respectively.

Tiers I and IV would not allow any major subdivisions to be built on septic systems. Some counties, such as Worcester, could take advantage of an exception based on dwelling unit density that would remove the restrictions from Tier IV. But while Worcester will almost certainly qualify for the exception, it seems unlikely that Wicomico will receive the same.

Each county is responsible for designating its own tiers. Once the jurisdictions have created a map, the next step is to forward it on to the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) for review and comments. Once the final tiers have been confirmed, the county would then adopt the map. However, the council does not have to accept any map, Hall explained. But if they don’t do so, no major subdivisions will be allowed on septic anywhere in the county after Jan. 1.

“Obviously there’s a concern any time there’s an impact … you’re trying to minimize those impacts,” said Hall.

While he presented a tiered map to the council Tuesday, Hall admitted that his office still needs to do a lot of work and would like to hear input from the public before anything is finalized.

Council President Joe Holloway agreed that this will be an ongoing process with more meetings in the future. If the county does consider adopting the tiers and forwarding a map to Annapolis, Holloway expects that the real work will just be beginning.

“History shows that whatever we send to the state will probably not be enough,” he said.