Septic Repeal Bill Still Alive

BERLIN — A local delegate’s effort to repeal the state’s Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Act of 2012, or “septic bill,” appears to have newfound support after its first committee hearing in the House this week.

Earlier this session, Delegate Mike McDermott introduced legislation aimed at repealing the controversial septic bill approved by state lawmakers last year. After considerable debate during the 2012 session, state lawmakers passed legislation, which would require the counties to submit plans for a four-tier system into their planning maps directing where new development and growth should go. Under the plan, Tier I would include areas already served by public sewer systems and Tier II would include designated “growth areas” where plans are in place to extend public sewer lines in the future.

Opponents of the septic bill and the associated tier system claim the legislation is an unveiled attempt by the state to wrest away decisions on planning and zoning issues from the local governments and pass them along to Annapolis and the Maryland Departments of Planning and the Environment. Proponents of the septic bill assert the tier system would make great strides in directing future growth and development away from sensitive ecological areas and afford greater protections to the Chesapeake and coastal bays.

From the beginning, McDermott has called the Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Act of 2012 a “land grab” by the state, which will hold sway over land-use decisions and place the authority on planning issues in the hands of state departments and away from local elected officials and planners. His bill introduced in January to repeal the septic bill was and still is considered a long-shot, but McDermott said this week it could be gaining some momentum after a first committee hearing on Wednesday.

“The committee hearing went really well with people from all over the state including the lower shore in to testify on its behalf,” he said. “It seemed to get a good response from the committee members although no vote has been taken yet.”

McDermott said he saw signs during the hearing that many who supported the septic bill last year could be changing their positions.

“There were a couple that voted in favor that voiced some concerns now that it’s being implemented,” he said. “They’re mostly concerned with the autonomy issue, and their concerned about the devaluing of land. Some of said it now looks like a taking. We’ll see where this goes, but at least the debate is open.”