O'Malley vows action on septic systems

Governor says growth off sewer lines undermines progress

December 29, 2011|By Michael Dresser, The Baltimore Sun

Gov. Martin O'Malley promised a push during the coming legislative session to curb proliferation of large housing developments served by septic systems, saying that increased pollution from septic systems is undermining state progress in protecting the Chesapeake Bay.

Meeting with reporters Thursday, the governor took a defiant tone toward critics of his septic-control policies, which some have labeled part of a "war on rural Maryland." O'Malley said that science is firmly on the side of those who want to control the growth of septic systems — typically used for large-lot developments in outer suburban and rural areas.

"One of the ways to get out of a hole is to stop digging it deeper," O'Malley said. He pointed to figures showing that the state is making progress in dealing with other forms of pollution while nutrient production from septic systems is increasing.

While the governor made it clear that he would submit legislation, he did not provide specifics. A spokeswoman said it had not been decided whether the bill would be similar to last year's proposal, which sought to ban some large developments on septic systems close to waterways, but O'Malley indicated that any proposal would include a provision to allow the children of farmers to build homes on family property.

The governor's emphasis on controlling pollution from septic systems has aroused opposition among leaders in some rural counties, who say the administration's proposal last year would have infringed on farmers' property rights.

O'Malley's comments on septic systems came during a wide-ranging, statistics-laden discussion with reporters at the State House in which the governor enumerated his administration's progress toward statistical goals he has set in the past and reaffirmed his determination to work toward those that remain.

The Democrat unveiled no new policy initiatives but restated his intention to hold his fiscal 2013 budget within the Assembly's spending affordability guidelines for a sixth straight year while providing a generous capital budget to spur creation of construction jobs. He said he expects to propose some increases in transportation revenue and in the so-called "flush tax," but he did not disclose details.

"You just get what you pay for," O'Malley said. "And there's no way to build a $100 million bridge for $10 million." He noted that the state's tax on gasoline hasn't increased since 1982, when prices where less than half current levels, but said he would be sensitive to public concerns.

Among the achievements O'Malley claimed were the state's No. 1 ranking on some national measures of the quality of public schools and reductions in the rates of violent crimes to the lowest levels since the 1970s.

The governor also noted recent figures showing that Maryland's unemployment rate has declined to 6.9 percent.

"We have recovered 43 percent of the jobs we lost in the Bush recession. We are not by any means done," O'Malley said.

He contrasted that with the record of regional rival Virginia — now led by a Republican governor — which he said has regained 30 percent of lost jobs. O'Malley said Maryland has been adding private-sector jobs at eight times the rate of its southern neighbor.

Those statistics were among the contrasts O'Malley made between Maryland and Virginia, in almost every case highlighting Maryland's faster progress, though Virginia has a lower unemployment rate of 6.2 percent.

The governor said Maryland has reached its two-year milestones for reducing its flow of pollutants into the Chesapeake Bay, boasting of having a record number of farms with a record number of acres in the state's cover-crop program to filter out polluting runoff before it can reach the bay.

On the flush tax, the governor indicated he wants to move away from the current flat fee — which falls equally on households producing little pollution and those that yield more — to a graduated system based on consumption.


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