April 09 2014

Maryland’s Septics Law Highlights Differences of Rural and Urban Communities

Maryland’s Sustainable Growth & Agricultural Preservation Act of 2012, also known as the septics law, widened the divide between rural and urban communities in the state. The law is part of a bundle of programs pushed through within the last decade to improve the health of the Chesapeake Bay. Some of these initiatives include:

The mixing bowl of green planning policies have increased costs in both rural and urban areas, leaving some uncertain about whether the potential long term benefits will be worth the short term pain – pain perceived to be greater for rural communities. Rural opponents have said the septics law’s tight restrictions continue the State’s “one size fits all” policy and war on rural Maryland by the urban elite.

Don't pollute the Bay - Baltimore, Maryland sewer

In an open letter early last year, then Maryland Senator E.J. Pipkin stated that the law strips “landowners of their property rights, but also local government of its planning authority.” The issue of property rights was an especially sensitive topic for farmers who protested in Annapolis by driving in on their tractors and decrying the law for its impacts on rural land values. Urban communities, and some rural residents, feel these farmers are deceptively using the title of “farmer” to oppose a law that would lower property values, only to sell their land to commercial developers in the future if the law is repealed.

Pipkin’s letter also pointed out the incidence of sewage spills from over exhausted water treatment plants in densely populated areas. So why single out the pollution caused by septic systems, used more often in rural developments? A response from Planning Secretary Richard E. Hall called Pipkin’s rhetoric damaging to the “One Maryland” approach to unify rural, suburban, and urban communities in sustainable growth efforts. Pipkin argued that pollution from septic tanks is negligible compared to other sources, but Hall countered by identifying ill-maintained septic tanks as a growing source of Bay pollutants while other sources have been on the decline due to the success of programs.

No Swimming in the Bay Watershed - Severn River, Maryland

The impact agriculture has on the Bay goes beyond septic systems, and includes manure and chemical runoff. New rules for agriculture may limit the industrial farms ability to sell chicken poop as fertilizer based on the levels of soil saturation in the fields that use manure, and the chicken farms are demanding an economic impact study. Meanwhile, in true Maryland fashion, advocates of Bay restoration released a radio jingle entitled “Keep your weed killer out of my crab cake!” In Baltimore, some marketing has been done for a swimmable, fishable Inner Harbor by 2020.

Do you think the new laws favor the needs of urban versus rural communities, or is the perception of favoritism simply Maryland politics in lieu of upcoming elections?

Credits: Images by Jade Clayton. Data linked to sources.

Jade Clayton

Jade Clayton recently received her B.S. in economics and business administration from Towson University in Towson, Maryland. She is currently pursuing a post-baccalaureate certificate in internet application design, and hopes to receive a Master’s in urban planning. Her interest in planning began with a high school internship for the downtown partnership in her hometown of Frederick, Maryland. This interest has grown since attending college near the City of Baltimore, where the potential for innovative and sustainable urban growth is abundant, as are the challenges. Since receiving her undergraduate degree, Jade has been working full-time as a research assistant at Towson University, providing analysis and research on the local and regional economy in Maryland. Since graduating, Jade has spent her newfound free time becoming reacquainted with her love for the outdoors, backpacking through five European cities, and getting to know Baltimore a little better every day.

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, April 9th, 2014 at 9:48 am and is filed under Community/Economic Development, Environment, Environmental Design, Government/Politics, Infrastructure, Internet Marketing, Jade Clayton, Land Use, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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