ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Gov. Martin O’Malley has encountered opposition from both parties in his push to require high-end septic systems for new developments, but he’s drafted a compromise to salvage the bill and even plans to wade into a polluted lake at midweek to draw attention to the issue.
O’Malley’s plan to require new developments in rural Maryland to install top-grade septics systems hit a bump last week after rural lawmakers protested and a House leader suggested studying the issue for a year before passing any legislation. While the measure is targeted largely at developers, who rely on septic systems which leach nitrogen into the Chesapeake Bay, it also would limit how farmers peel off parcels of their land.
The septics bill would only allow farmers to divide their land into parcels once — a measure environmentalists say is designed to keep developers from skirting septic requirements by getting farmers to gradually sell them land over time.
However, amendments crafted by the governor would allow farmers to split their land four times, but only for family members, not for sale to developers. It would also allow farmers to divide their land for other, non-residential means, like building a winery or dairy operation.
A document outlining the amendments was obtained by The Associated Press.
O’Malley met for more than an hour Thursday morning with farmers, farm credit analysts and Agriculture Secretary Earl “Buddy” Hance.
The governor distributed copies of the amendments to the group and told them they would have much of the summer to talk about the issue, said Val Connelly, lobbyist for the Maryland Farm Bureau who attended the meeting.
“The impression the farm community got was we have time to discuss our concerns,” she said.
O’Malley would like to see the bill passed this year, to start addressing nitrogen runoff into the Bay, but has always said he wants an open debate on the issue, said Hance.
“What matters is it’s done right, not done quickly,” Hance said.
House Environmental Matters Committee chair Maggie McIntosh told O’Malley last week she wants to send the bill to a summer study committee. While Republican lawmakers have largely lambasted the proposal, a group of rural Democrats also filed their concerns with McIntosh last month.
While O’Malley has given high-profile play to the septics issue — he plans to wade into a lake polluted by septic systems Wednesday — he has consistently hinted the issue might be dead this year. O’Malley is scheduled on Wednesday to wade into Lake Bonnie in Goldsboro on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. The lake has been closed to swimming, to demonstrate pollution concerns due to septic systems.
O’Malley first announced his support for the septics proposal in his State of the State address last month, surprising environmentalists and developers. And while he has lobbied for the proposal, including holding a news conference in the same room where he met with farmers, he never formally added his name to the septics bills.
“Often, a bill of this size takes multiple years,” said Kim Coble, Maryland executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Trust Fund. “It would have been great to do it one year. But I am not surprised nor am I disappointed that it will take multiple years.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)