County applauds reversal on septic regulation
Hogan rolls back O’Malley-era mandate
— Gov. Larry Hogan’s announcement Saturday that his administration is going to roll back septic rules implemented Jan. 1, 2013, by former Gov. Martin O’Malley was music to the ears of Cecil County Council members.
Hogan said he’s doing away with requirement that all new construction and failing septic replacements, outside of the Chesapeake Bay critical area of 1,000 feet from all tidal waters, install costly best available technology (BAT) septic systems, potentially saving homeowners thousands of dollars.
The Cecil County Health Department’s Environmental Health Director Fred von Staden said Thursday that he was briefed Wednesday by the Maryland Department of the Environment about the implementation schedule for the new regulations.
“The process has started, but we were told not to expect new rules to take effect until Nov. 1 at the earliest and more likely January,” von Staden said.
The changes must be reviewed by the legislature’s Administrative, Executive, Legislative Review (AELR) Committee first, then get
published in the Maryland Register before seeking public comment — all prior to taking effect.
“Meanwhile, the current regulations remain in effect,” von Staden said.
Hogan made the announcement while delivering a keynote speech on the final day of the Maryland Association of Counties (MACo) summer conference in Ocean City, where he highlighted his administration’s accomplishments and offered a look ahead.
“We heard your calls loud and clear to take action on these issues,” the governor said at MACo. “Looking ahead, our administration will continue to fight to eliminate those taxes and regulations that stifle the economy in our counties.”
His speech also included a vow to do something about sediment behind Conowingo Dam, to push for repeal of last session’s transportation funding revisions and an offer to split the cost of new voting machines with the counties.
“I think it’s huge,” Councilman Dan Schneckenburger said of the septic changes. “I’ll be curious to see how it’s going to roll out. Alan, Joyce and I were there when he announced it.”
Councilman Alan McCarthy and Councilwoman Joyce Bowlsbey shared Schneckenburger’s enthusiasm on the plans.
“I was excited to hear this,” Bowlsbey said. “Elimination of the BAT requirement for parts of the county that are outside of the critical area boundaries should help our housing market.”
Joe Zang, mayor of Cecilton and a real estate agent with REMAX Chesapeake, said this week that he is pleased with Hogan’s decision, but he feels it may take more to boost housing and commercial growth in Cecil County.
“What he’s doing is right,” Zang said, but he is concerned with what he said is the county’s mindset of “throwing up roadblocks, instead of offering solutions” when it comes to building regulations and fees imposed on new construction. “Time is money for developers, and delays give this county a bad reputation. However, we are going in the right direction and we’ll get there.”
Council President Robert Hodge, who is not seeking re-election, didn’t attend the summer MACo conference, but weighed in on the repeal of some of the septic regulations requiring newer technology systems.
“I think it’s a good thing to do,” he said. “I always thought BAT systems were a very expensive way to stop nitrogen from going into the Bay. We should spend our time and money where we can get the most bang for our buck.”
Hodge does expect some push back from environmental groups.
“They probably won’t be happy,” he said.
It seems Hodge is correct, as Dru Schmidt-Perkins, executive director of 1,000 Friends of Maryland, criticized Hogan’s decision to limit the ban of low-tech septic systems to only the critical areas within 1,000 feet of the shoreline in an interview with the Baltimore Sun.
McCarthy agreed with Hodge on the “bang for buck” example, saying, “It would be better to shift the money to pay for more public sewer and water systems.”
The existing septic rules cover virtually all of Cecil County except for an area both east of Appleton Road and north of Interstate 95. Von Staden said grants have been available to help pay for the installation of the BAT systems for homeowners. Rules for application for these grants and details about what is covered are posted on the Cecil County Health Department’s website.
“We have a total of $885,000 in Bay Restoration Program grant funds available through June 30, 2017,” von Staden said.
Much of Cecil County is not served by public sewer systems, requiring property owners to install septic or onsite disposal systems.
Local officials estimate the cost of installation of a BAT system to be anywhere from $10,000 to $15,000 per home, depending on location and other factors.
Most of the BAT systems installed in Cecil County, according to von Staden, have been covered by Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund grants. Those grants are made possible from revenue generated by former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s flush tax that collects fees from every sewer and septic user in Maryland.