Missed opportunity

Our view: Anne Arundel should promote, not discourage, pollution-curbing septic systems

January 14, 2009

When the Anne Arundel County Council recently rejected legislation that would increase the use of pollution-curbing septic systems in homes, it missed an opportunity to improve the health of the Chesapeake Bay. And for a county that sits on two major rivers that flow to the bay, it was a pass-the-buck moment.

Improving the health of the Severn and Magothy rivers and their tributaries should be in the county's interest. The dirtier the rivers, the less inviting the county shoreline and the greater the likelihood that the value of miles of waterfront property will suffer.

The legislation sponsored by Councilman Jamie Benoit of Crownsville would have required Arundel residents who live within environmentally sensitive areas to upgrade failed septic systems with ones that reduce pollution-causing nitrogen. The county is sensitive to the problem of septic systems - it previously required these ecologically friendly ones in new homes.

The Benoit bill was an effort to take advantage of state grants that help pay for these more costly systems. But Anne Arundel is the only jurisdiction in the state that puts a condition on homeowners who receive the state grants. Families who took advantage of the grant program and subsequently expanded their homes would have to repay the grant to the county. That's a mighty deterrent.

The administration of County Executive John R. Leopold, who raised concerns about the financial costs of requiring the upgrades, refused to modify or remove the expansion clause. Officials say there are plenty of takers for the grants as it is, and the council voted down the measure. Anne Arundel has 40,684 septic systems, the most in the state. And on many days, the waterways in the county fail the smell test - an overabundance of bacteria from waste foul the water for recreational users. That should be reason enough for the county to find another way to encourage replacement of failing septic systems and not penalize homeowners who want to do the environmentally correct thing.

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