about south river federation

The 2017 General Assembly Session wound up last week with a mixed bag of good news and bad news. First and foremost, a threat to oyster sanctuaries throughout the Bay was rebuffed by the passage of HB924, which prevents opening of sanctuaries to harvest until after release of a stock assessment for the fishery, due December 1, 2018. The South RIVERKEEPER testified in favor of this important legislation in both chambers of the General Assembly and provided written testimony expressing the vital importance of preserving the sanctuaries, which available science shows out-perform harvest areas at building up the oyster population. The ongoing stock assessment is the most comprehensive study of the Bay’s oyster fishery yet performed and will, for the first time, determine a sustainable harvest rate based on scientific indicators rather than historical harvest rates.

Another victory this year was the passage of SB108, which will enable local jurisdictions (including Anne Arundel County) to provide a property tax incentive to waterfront property owners who improve their property with a living shoreline. This bill replaces a section of state law that enabled local jurisdictions to incentivize the construction of bulkheads and rip rap-armored shorelines. Armored shorelines re-direct wave energy towards the River’s bottom, scouring up the sediment and sand which diminishes water clarity, and provide no habitat benefits to aquatic organisms. By contrast, living shorelines are designed to attenuate wave energy, which allows suspended sediment to settle into the living shoreline’s marsh grasses and occlude onto the shoreline. Living shorelines also provide valuable habitat for juvenile crabs and fish, and spawning areas for Maryland terrapins and horseshoe crabs. The Federation is proud to have submitted written and oral testimony in favor of this bill in the Maryland Senate and confident that more waterfront property owners will take advantage of the tax incentives offered by Anne Arundel County to improve their shorelines in the future.

Unfortunately, not all legislative priorities passed this year. One bill the RIVERKEEPER worked hard on was a bill intended to require the use of Best Available Technology (BAT) for all new and rebuilt septic systems in the State. BAT is proven to reduce nitrogen levels in the Bay and its tributaries, but legislators determined that the admitted nitrogen reductions were not worth the increased housing costs that opponents predicted would arise from passage of the bill.

Finally, improvements to the State’s Forest Conservation Act (FCA) were not implemented this year, despite concerted effort by the RIVERKEEPER, the Bay Foundation, Sierra Club, and many other allies. The current law requires on ¼ acre of replanting for every acre of trees cleared for development projects. This year’s SB365 would have adjusted that ration to an even 1:1, among other improvements. The legislature did refer the issue of improving the law to a summer study, and some key legislators overseeing that study have requested that the RIVERKEEPER continue to provide information and perspective on the impact of forest cover on clean water in preparation for next year’s session.

All in all, the session went well, without any poison pills passing through that would endanger our access to clean water, and a couple of victories to celebrate. As always, work remains to be done, and legislators will continue to consider comment from constituents. If anyone is interested in getting more involved with lobbying efforts next year, please reach out to the RIVERKEEPER to strategize and mobilize.