Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The O'Malley War on the Countryside

E.J. Pipkin, one of the state Senators who represents Maryland's Eastern Shore, comes out and calls a spade a goddamn shovel.
I am writing in response to The Sun's editorial regarding septic tank limits, "Plowing old ground" (Feb. 15).

I have introduced legislation to repeal the Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act of 2012, the law requiring counties to adopt a tier system thus limiting new residential developments with septic systems. The state has told the counties they must either adopt the tier system established by the state or limit new major subdivisions, currently six or more housing units in Queen Anne's County, to land on public sewer.

The ability to develop is one of a bundle of rights that comes with property ownership. Each right that comes with property ownership has a certain value to it. Revoking an owner's development rights reduces the value of that property.

Advocates contend that the loss of property rights and value is a worthy sacrifice to ensure a healthy Chesapeake Bay because septic systems are so damaging. Your editorial argues, "Failing septic tanks are a significant source of water pollution in the Chesapeake Bay." The truth is that Maryland accounts for about 20 percent of the bay's nitrogen load. Septics account for 4 percent to 8 percent of Maryland's load. That means Maryland septic systems account for 0.8 percent to 1.6 percent of the bay's nitrogen load.
Two points in this last paragraph need highlighting; yes the legislation substantially restricts the right of rural and suburban  land owners to develop their private property and that the potential gain from such restrictions is relatively trivial in the grand scheme to Chesapeake Bay nitrogen pollution problems.  You can take issue with the numbers perhaps, but they seem to be about on target, but if all the states were to similarly restrict septic, the savings would be on the order of 4-8%.   If peoples freedoms are to be restricted, and yes, in some cases it needs to be done, the gain should be important.  I don't think this meets that test.

Instead, urban living is considered the superior alternative. But assertions that the state should steer development to cities and towns served by public water and sewer ignore the pressure dense population puts on infrastructure. With every major storm, The Sun prints stories of sewage overflows from wastewater treatment plants into open waters. Millions of gallons of untreated sewage are released into the Chesapeake Bay. Ironically, the Maryland Department of the Environment consistently asserts that septic systems are the culprit for the Chesapeake's deterioration, and while concerning, the spills have little negative impact to bay health.
It is notable that in articles announcing the various sewage overflows from Baltimore, and the almost continual "leakage" of high nutrient waters from the urban areas, these inputs tend to be downplayed.  Certainly, they're not important enough to write a law demanding that the cities actually pay the bill to upgrade their own facilities.
No, the 2012 law was less about septic systems and more about land control. Not just does the law strip landowners of their property rights but also local government of its planning authority. With the passage of this law, the secretary of the Maryland Department of Planning has become the state's de facto land planning czar.

Twelve counties have registered their opposition to the law by failing to file tier maps with the state. Indeed, local jurisdictions would rather take their chances in court, fighting for their planning authority, than to stand by helpless and allow that power to be stolen by state regulation.

The Sun's editorial attempted to debunk the belief that the state is waging a "war on rural counties." Only the biased and blind could fail to see what is blatantly apparent — that the policies and legislative proposals of Gov. Martin O'Malley's administration, from the septic system ban to wastewater improvement, will strip rural Maryland of any real opportunity to create jobs and boost its economy. If that's not war, I don't know what is.
O'Malley's and the Democratic Party's strength in Maryland lies in the urban areas, while their only significant opposition lies in the suburbs and rural areas.  They see it as in their best interests to control growth and force it into the urban areas.  Whether or not it's better for the environment is strictly a secondary concern,

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