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:
- Enhanced nutrient removal upgrades of over fifty major wastewater treatment plants;
- Doubling of the Bay Restoration Fund (BRF) fee for households with on-site septic systems;
- Installation of 4,500 eligible septic systems within the Chesapeake Bay and Coastal Bay watersheds;
- Planting of over 400,000 acres of cover crops contributing to nutrient reductions; and
- Collection of the so-called “rain tax” on impervious surfaces in and around the Baltimore region.
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.
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a law that would lower property values, only to sell their land to commercial developers in the future if the law is repealed.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.
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.