Rural Md. Counties Seek Stronger Voice in State Policy

10/20/2012 7:00 AM
By Janice F. Booth Maryland Correspondent

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — The newly established Maryland Rural Counties Coalition met Monday in Annapolis to discuss the counties’ responses individually and jointly to the state’s environmental protection regulations and the costs associated with meeting those regulations.

Specifically, septic systems, storm water and the PlanMaryland initiative were at issue.

The Maryland Rural Counties Coalition was founded in 2011 as a means to gain a stronger voice for the views of rural constituents in rural counties that believe they are often overlooked in statewide policy and planning.

The eight counties in the coalition are Allegany, Carroll, Cecil, Dorchester, Frederick, Somerset, Washington and Wicomico.

At this week’s meeting, the newly elected chairman of the coalition, Commissioner Mike McKay of Allegany County, reviewed the proposed bylaws and the coalition’s goals.

The meeting was attended by more than 30 commissioners and elected county officials, as well as Sen. E.J. Pipkin, R-36th District, Delegate Michael Smigiel, R-36th District, and other interested parties.

One of the meeting’s main presentations was given by Charles (Chip) MacLeod, of the law firm of Funk & Bolton, Chestertown. MacLeod apprised the coalition of Dorchester County’s plan to protect its interests regarding the Watershed Implementation Plan and associated mandates from the Maryland Department of Planning (MDP) and the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE).

MacLeod also explained why other counties in the coalition might wish to join with Dorchester County.

MacLeod’s presentation stressed three points:

First, he said, the danger of “intrusion creeps into local county land control.”

Second, the WIP regulations are based on flawed statistics. The regulations, MacLeod said, ignore the impact of the exhausted sediment ponds connected to the Conowingo Dam that spill nitrogen pollution into the Chesapeake Bay in far greater volume than the pollutants coming from Maryland’s rural counties.

Finally, he said, the high costs that are being imposed on counties, and specifically residents of the counties, in order to meet the ENR requirements exceed the Maryland Department of the Environment’s authority under the federal Clean Water Act.

Funk & Bolton propose that other counties, and perhaps municipalities as well, join with Dorchester County in questioning the legality of the Phase II WIP process and “associated MDP mandated revisions” to the counties’ master plans as well as oppose the onerous costs of compliance with the new ENR National Pollution Discharge Elimination System.

A vigorous discussion ensued as to the ramifications of such a rebellion by the counties.

“What will happen if the state comes after one county as an example to penalize?” Smigiel asked.

Commissioner Diane Broomell of Cecil County said the commissioners’ primary responsibility is to represent the interests of their constituents. She urged the coalition members to provide a “collective and consistent message (of their decisions)” to the citizens they represent.

“Timing is critical,” said Pipkin. “Once you submit to the process (WIP Phase II) it’s tough to back out. There’s no placating the state bureaucracy on this.”

“The question is: Do we want Funk & Bolton to fight for us all? We need to make a decision,” said Commissioner Bob Hodge of Cecil County.

MacLeod closed his remarks by pointing out that Dorchester County is going ahead with its opposition to the mandates and programs for bay restoration which place an “exorbitant tax burden that will not yield any significant benefit.”

If Dorchester is joined by other affected counties, or the Coalition of Rural Counties, then the financial and political burdens of the fight are shared. The benefits also will be shared by all if the courts accept the counties’ arguments and overturn the MDE’s regulations and their associated costs.<\c> Photo by Janice F. Booth

Chestertown, Md., attorney Charles MacLeod discusses the legality of the state’s environmental protection regulations during a meeting of the Maryland Rural Counties Coalition Monday in Annapolis.

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