Septic upgrade bill fails

Nitrogen reduction would have helped bay's health, some say

January 11, 2009|By Tyeesha Dixon | Tyeesha Dixon,tyeesha.dixon@baltsun.com

Although County Council members and environmentalists encourage homeowners in Anne Arundel's critical areas and bogs to upgrade their septic tanks, the move won't be required after the council rejected a bill that would force homeowners in those areas to install nitrogen-reducing septic systems to improve the health of the Chesapeake Bay.

Five of the council's seven members voted Monday against the bill - including one of the bill's co-sponsors, Ronald C. Dillon Jr., who represents the 3rd District. The two supporters of the amended bill were Josh Cohen, District 6, and Jamie Benoit, District 4.

Septic systems can leak nitrogen into ground water, which eventually makes its way into streams that feed into the bay. Too much nitrogen allows algae blooms to develop, blocking sunlight and absorbing oxygen that other plant and animals species need.

The bill would have required that septic tanks in the critical areas - land within 1,000 feet of tidal waters - and bogs include nitrogen-removal technology.

The idea was that homeowners would be able to tap into government grant money to fund the upgrades.

But some council members, like chairman and 7th District Councilman Edward R. Reilly, have expressed concern that there won't be enough money to go around to reimburse homeowners for the work.

During Monday's meeting, Reilly stressed that he advocated the nitrogen-reducing technology but said that the bill did not adequately touch all facets of the issue, including problems that could arise with real estate transfer.

"This is not the way to do it," Reilly said.

The way the bill was written, homeowners who accepted grant money for the upgraded septic systems would be restricted in expanding their homes, language some of the council members found discouraging to homeowners who might have considered making the switch voluntarily.

But environmentalists have argued that something needs to be done.

Chris Trumbauer, of West/Rhode Riverkeeper, told the council that the bill would be a simple solution to a serious environmental issue.

"It's the easiest thing you can do to help our rivers," Trumbauer said at the meeting. He noted the $30 annual tax that Marylanders with septic systems already pay to the Bay Restoration Fund.

"And it's already paid for. ... There's too much nitrogen pollution in our rivers."

Despite the rejection of the septic bill, the council unanimously approved property tax credits for solar panels. The bill broadens the current tax credit to include panels that heat water and power electricity-generating equipment.

The bill amends the definition of solar energy equipment eligible for tax credits to include photovoltaic arrays - a collection of cells that convert solar energy into electricity - and solar panels.

The tax credit is for 50 percent of the cost of materials and installation or construction of the equipment or $2,500, whichever is less. The credit can also be combined with state and federal grants or credits.

The bill also amends the definition of a qualifying solar energy device to be "any device that uses solar energy to heat or cool the dwelling, to generate electricity to be used in the dwelling or to provide hot water for use in the dwelling." Devices used to generate electricity for which applications are filed after June 1, 2012, however, will not eligible.

Withdrawn during the meeting was a bill that could add conditions to roadside produce stands, but it was resubmitted and is up for public hearing next month.

Other bills that passed at Monday's meeting included:

* Doghouses: Pet owners must provide accessible shelter to their dogs that are confined or tied outdoors, broadening the rights owners have to allow their animals to roam free in their yards. The amendment changed just one word in the bill: rather than provide "a" shelter, owners must provide "accessible" shelter.

The bill was passed unanimously.

* Sprinklers: Newly built single-family homes will have to include residential sprinkler systems after this bill passed with a 6-1 vote.

* HIV/AIDS Commission: This bill establishes an HIV/AIDS commission for the county, to provide education and training for preventing HIV/AIDS, as well as enhancing the quality of life for those living with the virus. It was passed unanimously.

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