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.

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