Stormwater fee discussed at NPPC meeting
Wednesday, 16 October 2013 11:42

“Rain Tax” tops agenda at area meeting Oct. 3

by John G. Bailey

    After a three-month hiatus, the North Point Community Council held its first general meeting of the fall season Oct. 3 to review new and ongoing developments.
    Guest speaker Del. John Olszewski Jr. discussed Baltimore County’s stormwater remediation program and took questions from the small group in attendance.
    In the audience were Bob Long, Republican candidate for the Maryland House of Delegates, and John Salling, a Republican candidate for the state Senate seat currently held by Sen. Norman Stone.
    Olszewski is also a candidate for the seat. 
    Olszewski explained the origins of the  stormwater remediation program, recalling that in a lawsuit brought by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the CBF claimed the EPA was negligent in its mandate to protect the bay against second-source pollution. Court rulings agreed.

In response, the federal agency established limits on stormwater runoff and total maximim daily loads [TMDLs] for jurisdictions of states that fall within the bay’s watershed.
    In 2012. the General Assembly passed a law, entitled the Stormwater Management Watershed Protection and Restoration Program, that required counties and municipalities to comply with the EPA limits. The law allowed for broad flexibilty in reducing stormwater runoff but required jurisdictions to levy stormwater remediation fees, which caused the law to be referred to as the “Rain Tax.”
    As one of the supporters of a policy that has engendered considerable controversy, Olszewski took the opportunity to explain  his support of the legislation and to clarify Baltimore County’s relation to the state in the matter.
    Noting the county’s extensive shoreline and an increase in impervious surfaces that has exceeded the rate of population growth, he said, “We should do something.”
    And the fact that the county has not raised the tax rate in many years mitigated his concern about the fees’ impact on residents, he noted.
    The delegate debunked the charge often heard by remediation fee opponents that the stormwater fees are a state mandate. 
    “Baltimore County was chartered as a home rule county and has the power to levy taxes,” he reminded the audience. He explained that even without the state law, the county would still have instituted fees in order to comply with the federal stormwater limits.
    The county’s failure to comply with the EPA’s TMDL mandate could result in the witholding of permits issued by the agency which are required for development projects within the watershed that  exceed 5,000 square feet.
    Many of the questions and comments following Olszewski’s talk addressed the perceived inequity of the fees. 
    NPPC member Scott Pappas claimed that the remediation fee for residences unfairly impacts homeowners like himself, who live on land that falls within the critical bay area and are limited in how they can develop their properties. Since residential properties are assessed equally, regardless of how much runoff a site generates, homeowners in critical bay areas are disproportionally assessed, Pappas argued.
    He proposed a tax-rebate for critical bay area homeowners as a remedy. Olzewski said he favored mitigation credits.
    NPPC vice president Fran Taylor asked why the state couldn’t implement a standard rate for all effected jurisdictions.
    Olszewski said he opposed state-mandated standardization, fearing higher rates. 
    “Government closest to the people [such as at the county level] is more responsible to the needs of residents.”   
    Former director of Baltimore County Department of Planning John Alexander pointed out that geological variations in the degree of soil absorption of storm runoff made variable rates logical and fair.
    The stormwater fees’ impact on businesses was another topic of concern at the meeting.
    Candidate Salling spoke of the owner of a small hardware store that he knew. “He’s gonna leave. He can’t afford [the stormwater fee for businesses]. We should do something for people like this; make them feel like they’re an important part of the community.”
    Bob Long concurred with his fellow Republican and suggested a volunteer program for reducing the stormwater runoff from businesses. He pointed to a local church’s construction of a bay-friendly parking lot 10 years ago in support of volunteer compliance.
    Olszewski did not comment on the idea but expressed optimism for reducing runoff with new building technologies and paving materials.
    Pappas suggested that the idea of carbon tax credits for businesses in combating global warming could be adapted to help county businesses to reduce their storm water fee obligations: the planting of trees or other runoff reducing projects off-property would earn business credits against its storm- water fee.
    Both Salling and council member Carolyn Mroz expressed concern about the remediation fees’ burden on nonprofit organizations like churches, hospitals and private schools.
    Olszewski noted that the fee rate on nonprofit institutions was lower than for businesses and said he opposed eliminating the liablity on nonprofits as counter-productive to the goal of achieving compliance. 
    While no one at the meeting opposed cleaning up the bay — the goal of the remediation fees —council president Harry Wujek wondered aloud, “Is this the right way to do it?” 
    Noting significant criticisms of the fees,  he decried the apparent lack of research prior to their implementation.
    When Wujek questioned the validity of the TMDL measurements, Alexander  assured him that storm- water runoff in the county had been well researched and documented.

Other local issues discussed
    Other matters were addressed during the second half of the meeting:
• The council’s appeal of the county decision in  favor of Hosannah House failed and the Catholic Charities home for homeless women 50 years of age and older in Edgemere is now in operation.
• A brief released by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs entitled “Status For Fort Howard Lease Negotions” suggests that the development of a senior community at the site is still under way. However, neither NPPC  representatives or county officials have been contacted by either the developer, Fort Howard Development, Inc, or the VA on the matter. As far as the council knows, the developer has yet to comply with any of the conditions necessary for a lease for the project. 
• Hart-Miller Island is still flooded with water that, due to its high PH content, cannot be pumped back into the bay. This is preventing further development of the site. However, the state Department of Natural Resources plans to build moorings along the shore for safer boating access.
• The North Point Heritage Greenway Trail, which is part of the Star-Spangled Banner National Historical Trail, will include an off-road hiker-biker path. The Edgemere Green Society agreed to partner with Baltimore County to maintain the path.
• The movement of 65,000 cubic feet of fill dirt for the Shaw’s Discovery housing development is complete.