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Bills On Septic Systems And Gambling Pass The State Senate
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Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Yesterday, the State Senate passed one of Governor Martin O’Malley’s key environmental initiatives -- a bill limiting development on septic systems. Another measure passed by the Senate expands gambling in Maryland, permitting table games in the state and allowing another casino. Both bills now head to the House of Delegates. WYPR's Joel McCord has more, starting with the vote on the septic system legislation.
The vote, 32-14, came after nearly three hours of impassioned debate. Two Democrats--Roy Dyson, of St. Mary’s County, and Ed DeGrange of Anne Arundel County--joined all 12 Republicans in voting no. Advocates have argued that the bill is an effort to reduce the amount of nitrogen seeping into Chesapeake Bay tributaries from septic systems. But Republican leader E.J. Pipkin, of Cecil County, said that pollution from septic systems amounts to only about four percent of the total in the bay.
“It’s not about the bay or nitrogen at all. This bill is about control. And this is the idea that the state of Maryland can make better decisions than the localities.”
Pipkin returned to his theme that this bill and a host of other administration efforts amount to a war on rural Maryland. It was a claim that Senate President Mike Miller heatedly denied. If anything, he said, it’s a war on people who don’t support smart growth.
“It was a war on people who want properties developed without roads, without schools, without fire departments or police stations. It’s a vote for planned development at the same time taking into consideration the needs and concerns of the property owners.”
Alison Prost, Maryland Executive Director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, conceded that Pipkin is right that pollution from septic systems amounts only to a small part of the bay’s overall problems. But, she added, it becomes a huge problem in bay tributaries, such as the South River in Anne Arundel County, where most of the pollution comes from septic systems.
“This type of growth on septic systems is having a huge impact on those local waters, the very waters in the rural areas that his constituents care about. If we don’t limit the proliferation of septic systems and control our growth somehow, do it somehow differently, we’re going to have the status quo and we’re going to have a lot of dirty waters.”
The bill takes off on Maryland’s Smart Growth policies by directing counties to draft four tiered development plans, encouraging development on sewer systems and creating increasingly stringent controls on the use of septic systems the farther away from sewer systems that new houses are built. Amendments adopted last week give local governments the final say over those plans. Although environmentalists complained the changes seriously weaken the bill, their author, Senator Thomas Mac Middleton, a Charles County Democrat, said they wouldn’t make much difference.
“I think at the end of the day you’re going to find most of these counties’ planners and local government officials are going to sit down with the department and they’re going to draw the lines and they’re going to agree on the lines of what these tiers should be.”
Dru Schmidt Perkins, executive director of the advocacy group 1000 Friends of Maryland, called the bill “strong legislation” for smarter growth.
“There’s some technical problems we need to fix with the bill, we need to have a conversation with the House and we have less than two weeks in session so we have a lot of work to do.”
In other action today, the Senate approved a Constitutional Amendment to allow Las Vegas style table games at the state’s five slots parlors and to add a sixth gambling location in Prince George’s County. That measure will have to clear the House of Delegates, however, where opposition to gambling has been stronger.
I’m Joel McCord, reporting in Annapolis for 88.1, WYPR.
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