Stormwater compromise still faces legislative hurdles

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By Tom LoBianco

The co-chairman of the General Assembly panel that must approve a compromise on tough new stormwater runoff regulations denounced the deal Thursday, calling it “an abomination” crafted with little regard for the environment.

The opposition of Sen. Paul Pinsky, the Prince George’s County Democrat who serves as co-chairman of the Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review Committee, suggests the compromise on stormwater rules remains tentative and could still face a difficult challenge before winning approval.

But House Speaker Michael E. Busch warned that the deal – crafted after extensive negotiations among lawmakers, builders, city and county officials, environmental advocates and others – should be approved as is.

“I don’t know how you can get to a better compromise than this, and I think it would be foolhardy to change any of this,” Busch said Thursday.

Lawmakers, developers and environmentalists announced a compromise this week on the new stormwater rules, which would make it easier for construction projects to meet the environmental benchmarks.

The deal appeared to resolve what had become one of the most contentious issues of the 2010 legislative session.

Many local elected officials, including the Maryland Association of Counties and the Maryland Municipal League, had criticized the regulations that had been scheduled to take effect in May for undermining the state’s Smart Growth Efforts.

For example, Baltimore County Executive Jim Smith had warned that the new stormwater rules, as proposed by the Maryland Department of the Environment, would hurt his efforts to revitalize older communities by making redevelopment projects prohibitively expensive – encouraging developers to instead look to new projects on new land.

Environmental groups involved in the negotiations largely accepted the compromise.

"There's no doubt the end result is a compromise," said Kim Coble, Maryland executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said Thursday night.

"There are elements of that that are steps backward for the environment and there are those that strengthen our hand," she said.

But a handful of activists have broken from those who signed on to the deal and are complaining that they believe developers won out almost completely in the new plan.

Pinsky said Thursday he believes that the environmental community got snubbed in negotiations on the stormwater regulations, and he said he was not part of the neogiations before the deal was announced.

“I think it’s an abomination, to tell you the truth,” Pinsky said. “A lot of people got strong-armed and the developers got all they wanted.”

The compromise measure would allow projects in the pipelines to abide by the current, more lenient environmental guidelines, as long as they complete their permitting by 2013 and construction by 2017.

The compromise also delineates alternative measures for developers who find it too hard to meet the stormwater runoff guidelines.

The new guidelines would broadly require that new developments be built with 100 percent pervious surfaces, and redevelopment projects should be built with 50 percent pervious surfaces.

The pervious surfaces are designed to cut down on runoff of pollutants following rainstorms, one of the largest sources of pollution for the Chesapeake Bay.

Lawmakers supporting the compromise are rushing to move the emergency regulations through the General Assembly before business wraps up in about a month.

The AELR committee – comprised of members of both the Senate and House of Delegates – would have to sign off on the compromise for it to take effect.

A Maryland Department of the Environment spokeswoman declined to comment for this story.

A spokesman for the Homebuilder Association of Maryland declined to comment. A representative for the Maryland State Builders Association did not immediately return a phone call.

Read more articles and political observations from Tom LoBianco here.

Previous stormwater coverage from Center Maryland

Developers, environmentalists, lawmakers reach compromise on stormwater rules

Bill introduced to modify new stormwater regulations

Virginia lawmakers moving to approve delay in new stormwater regulations

Fee proposed on property owners to mitigate effects of stormwater runoff

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

Previous opinion pieces on stormwater rules published by Center Maryland

Builders: What are the real facts?

Environmentalists: Jobs Are Absolutely a Priority, As Is a Clean Chesapeake Bay

Are jobs really a priority?

New stormwater rules won't increase costs

VIDEO: Jim Smith on stormwater regulations
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