Advocacy Efforts Currently Underway
Anne Arundel County Enforcement Audit
In June there was a significant sediment spill from the construction project at Rt. 2 and Admiral Cochrane Drive into Church Creek. The RIVERKEEPER alerted Anne Arundel County personnel, who responded quickly and determined that the spill resulted from the failure to install a stormwater bypass prior to grading a portion of the site for the project’s ultimate stormwater management system. When one of June’s heavy rains came, the disturbed earth was washed offsite and into Church Creek. Despite the acknowledged failure to install a necessary stormwater bypass as required on the construction plans for this project, County personnel advised the RIVERKEEPER that no fines or other penalties would be levied against the contractor. The choice not to impose any penalty was made because, according to the County, such penalties are usually challenged in court, and that judges generally decline to uphold them if an environmental violator has taken steps to correct the problem, so it is simply a waste of resources to attempt to assess a fine, despite acknowledged environmental damage.
This timidity to enforce the law led Federation staff to initiate a comprehensive audit of the County’s environmental code compliance since 2014. The effort is intended to reveal how often environmental violations have resulted in imposition of a penalty, including stop work orders and civil fines, how often those penalties are challenged in court, and when challenged, how often the penalty is upheld by the court. County personnel have expressed interest in the ultimate findings of this audit, and represented to the Federation that such an effort has never been made before. The Federation hopes that the audit will reveal any systemic shortcomings in the County’s environmental code enforcement, and thus inform the Federation’s subsequent efforts to remedy those shortcomings.
On September 12, 2016 the South RIVERKEEPER sent a letter to the director of Anne Arundel County Inspections & Permits outlining the reasons behind the Public Information Act request on 50 randomly selected code compliance cases as part of this study. Click here to read that letter.
NPDES Compliance Sweep
The Clean Water Act established the requirement that any facility which discharges pollutants into waters of the U.S. obtain and comply with a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit. The South River has 49 NPDES permittees in its watershed. Your South RIVERKEEPER reviewed the information available on the EPA’s Enforcement Compliance History Online (ECHO) website to identify those NPDES permittees with a history of non-compliance with their permits, and submitted Public Information Act requests to the Maryland Department of Environment in June to learn the precise nature and extent of these facilities’ permit violations. The Federation expects this effort to inform a campaign intended to bring non-compliant facilities back into compliance with the terms of their permits, and to identify any permits which merit revision to require stronger environmental protections based on established water quality requirements.
In May of 2016 Governor Hogan allowed the Sustainable Oyster Population and Fishery Act to become law without his signature. This new law amends Maryland Code, Natural Resources Article §4-215 to require a study to be performed by the Department of Natural Resources in conjunction with the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science which will determine the current population of oysters in the State and use biological reference points to determine what harvest rates are sustainable for the fishery. The South River Federation supported this bill from the outset, and the RIVERKEEPER submitted written and oral testimony to the General Assembly in favor of the legislation. In addition to the Federation, this bill received strong support from the Mid-Shore RIVERKEEPER Conservancy, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Coastal Conservation Association, and others throughout the legislative process.
The Federation expects that this study will inform sound, science-backed policymaking for oysters in the future and help with our ongoing efforts to restore the oyster population in the South River. An interim progress report on the oyster fishery is due on or before December 1, 2016. A copy of the enrolled bill is available here: http://mgaleg.maryland.gov/2016RS/bills/sb/sb0937e.pdf.
Watershed Protection and Restoration Fee
Many will recall the controversial Watershed Protection and Restoration Program established in 2012 in response to the Chesapeake Bay TMDL established by the EPA in 2010. This law was intended to curtail the impact of stormwater on the Chesapeake Bay by requiring collection of a designated fee based on a property’s amount of impervious surface from businesses and residents in the State’s 10 largest municipalities, which all carry a Phase I NPDES Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System permit (MS4) including Anne Arundel County. Thanks to improvements in wastewater treatment plants and agricultural practices, stormwater runoff remains the only source of pollution to the Bay that is still growing. Nonetheless, Governor Larry Hogan made repeal of the fee, which he disparaged as the “rain tax,” a priority of his candidacy, and in the first legislative term after taking office, his administration was able to curtail the program by removing the requirement of a designated fee. However, the EPA mandates still apply to the Phase I MS4 jurisdictions, so the removal of the fee means that MS4 jurisdictions must demonstrate their ability to meet the required reductions in stormwater some other way. To that end, Anne Arundel County and the other MS4 permittees must submit Financial Assurance Plans detailing the stormwater work that needs to be done, the funding sources to pay for it, and how the work will achieve the reductions required by EPA. Anne Arundel County elected to retain its designated fee and thus provided greater security that the County will meet its stormwater reduction targets.
On July 5, 2016 the County Executive Schuh’s office presented its Financial Assurance Plan to the County Council for approval. The Federation’s Executive Director Kate Fritz presented testimony in favor of the plan, which passed in the Council 4-3.