Fee proposed on property owners to mitigate effects of stormwater runoff

By Tom LoBianco

Counties would be forced to levy a new fee on property owners and use the money to mitigate the effects of stormwater runoff, under a measure proposed by Sen. Jamie Raskin.

The money would go to pay for retrofits and stormwater management measures as the state struggles to curtail pollutants pouring into the Chesapeake Bay.

“If we don’t take [care] of this issue now, we’re going to end up paying a lot more to clean up this problem in the future,” Raskin, a Montgomery County Democrat, said Thurday.

The measure does not declare how much each county must charge, although it does set a handful of parameters, including a mandate that the levy on commercial properties be higher than the fee imposed on residential properties.

Counties would have to keep that money in a fund dedicated to improving stormwater treatment facilities and public education on environmental issues.

The measure would also mandate that counties index and report all of the impervious surfaces located in their borders – although counties already report that information.

“We support the concept of a broad-based stormwater user fee and fund that takes pressure off developers and spreads the responsibility among all property owners,” said Michael Harrison, director of government affairs for the Homebuilders Association of Maryland.

Still, there are some problems with the Raskin proposal, he said.

The bill would not take into account existing neighborhoods and developments already outfitted with stormwater controls, and developments built after the new, more stringent run-off regulations go into effect.

It would also define gravel as an impervious surface, Harrison said.

GOP leaders were more critical of the fee aspect of the proposal. “This is another tax increase,” said Sen. David Brinkley, a Frederick County Republican. “There can be a mechanism put in place without the counties having to raise a tax.”

While efforts to reduce stormwater-related pollution to the Chesapeake Bay were once a point of bipartisan agreement in Annapolis, regulations and legislation have become increasingly contentious in this election year.

Developers, local leaders and state lawmakers have chafed at new rules set to go into effect in May for new developments and redeveloped properties. They argue that the new regulations apply too broadly to projects already under development – potentially hurting job growth causing millions of dollars in losses – and that the rules ultimately may undermine Smart Growth initiatives.

But environmental advocates have supported stronger regulations, noting that stormwater run-off is one of the largest causes of pollution in the Chesapeake Bay. They also say that implementing the new regulations will expand the market for “green” construction jobs.

Environmental leaders have said they’re surprised by the opposition that has emerged in recent months from the business community and developers on the issue.

“It’s election-year shenanigans,” said Cindy Schwartz, executive director of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters.

Watch for continued coverage of the stormwater management issues at Center Maryland.

Previous stormwater coverage from Center Maryland

Lawmakers frustrated by disagreement over new stormwater regulations

Developers and environmentalists battle over new stormwater rules

Developers fear new stormwater regulations will undermine Smart Growth

Poll: 77% prioritize jobs and economy over reducing pollution to the Chesapeake Bay

Read more articles and political observations from Tom LoBianco here.