House panel kills septic limits repeal
Curbs on rural development sparked farmer "tractorcade" in Annapolis
Christopher Pfefferkorn, a farmer from West Friendship in Howard County, drives his tractor along Rowe Blvd near the State House. Tractors from several counties came to Annapolis to support SB 391, which would repeal the septic limits law which was passed last year. (Barbara Haddock Taylor / February 18, 2013)
The House Environmental Matters Committee gave an "unfavorable" report to HB106, which would have repealed the "Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act of 2012." Sponsored by Del. Michael A. McDermott, a Republican representing Wicomico and Worcester counties on the Eastern Shore. the measure had the backing of 24 other GOP delegates.
About 15 tractors of various types paraded past the State House on Feb. 12 to protest the law, which they contend has depressed their land value and reduced the borrowing power they need to continue farming. That was the day the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee held a hearing on a companion repeal bill introduced by three Republican senators from the Eastern Shore and Frederick County. With the House bill scotched, the Senate measure is likewise dead.
It's not the end of controversy over the septic limits, though. Cecil and Wicomico counties are holding public hearings this week on the four-tiered maps the law calls for each county to prepare, with progressive limits on septic-based housing development from urban areas to rural agricultural zones.
The Maryland Department of Planning found parts of the map submitted by Cecil did not do as much as the law requires in limiting housing on septics in farming areas. Under the law, all the state planning department can do to counties it deems out of compliance is require them to hold a hearing and allow for public comment. However, state Planning Secretary Richard Hall has said it's possible a citizen or group may take the counties to court.
Cecil's hearing will be at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 19, in the Elk Room of the County Administration Building at 200 Chesapeake Blvd. in Elkton.
Along with roughly half the state's counties, Wicomico did not submit a map by the December deadline, so it is not allowed to have any large-scale septic development for the time being. County officials have been inviting rural landowners to either volunteer to be included in the tier restricting septic development or to request to have their land carved out of the restrictive zones.
The County Council will hold its hearing on the process at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center, 500 Glen Ave., Salisbury.