Septic bill clears House committee

By Daniel Menefee

A controversial septic bill that passed the Senate late last month was approved by the House Environmental Matters Committee on Wednesday by a vote of 17-7, mostly along party lines.

septic install

A septic tank installation. Photo by Soil Science.

The bill now moves to the House floor for debate.

The bill carries nine amendments from the Senate and one from the House that reaffirms the authority of local planning boards and commissions to determine septic use in major subdivisions.  The original bill would have given final authority over septic use to the Maryland Department of Planning and the Department of the Environment.

The counties are required to establish a four-tier mapping system for septic use in their comprehensive plans.

Under the amendments, local authorities must only consult with MDP when drawing their tier maps and hold a public hearing in the event the state and a local jurisdiction are in disagreement about the tier designations, but local governments will not be bound by the state’s recommendations.

“This allows the local jurisdictions to adopt the tiers on their own,” said Governor O’Malley’s chief legislative aide, Joseph Bryce. “We felt comfortable that a local ‘structure’ …would still meet the policy goals set out in the bill.”

Bryce said MDP will have the opportunity to comment on the maps and trigger a public hearing “on the areas of difference.”

He said tiers established in local comprehensive plans would have legal significance on septic use and a “lengthy public input process” from local residents.

The bill’s ultimate goal is to reduce nitrogen pollution into the Chesapeake Bay from septic systems and establish the size and scale of real estate development to protect agricultural lands.

Counties must establish their tiers by the end of 2012.

The Maryland Association of Counties lobbied extensively on the amendments and withdrew its original opposition to the bill.

Del. Herb McMillan, R-Anne Arundel, voted for the bill because the amendments “gave the counties 90% of they wanted”  and ultimately cuts the state out of local decisions.