Lawmakers approve stormwater compromise

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By Tom LoBianco

Maryland lawmakers broadly approved a compromise set of stormwater runoff regulations Tuesday night, resolving what had become the highest-profile environmental dispute of the 2010 General Assembly session.

The new measure will curb stormwater runoff from new and existing developments, but now includes an extensive grandfather clause for projects already under way to operate under the previous, more lenient requirements.

The stormwater regulations also delineate how developers can pay for alternatives to laying pervious surfaces that would absorb rainwater if they become prohibitive.

With Tuesday night’s approval by the General Assembly’s Joint Administrative, Executive and Legislative Committee, the new regulations take effect immediately.

“The proposal you have before you is a very sound one,” Maryland Department of the Environment Secretary Shari Wilson told the committee during a hearing Tuesday. “Let’s not lose sight of the fact that in literally 30 days Maryland is going to be a national leader on stormwater.”

The dispute over stormwater stems from legislation passed in 2007 that called for a significant reduction in runoff from new construction and development. The legislation left it to the Maryland Department of the Environment to develop the specific regulations on how to implement the law.

With those new regulations set to take effect in May, developers and local elected officials began publicly opposing the measure late last year after it appeared the rules would stifle projects already planned for construction. Officials in such jurisdictions as Baltimore County were particularly vocal in their criticism, saying they feared that the stormwater rules would end up making redevelopment of older neighborhoods too expensive, essentially undermining their efforts at Smart Growth.

As the debate wound through the beginning of the year, questions about whether developers and local leaders held off on voicing opposition until late in the game became a separate, sub-debate.

Senator Paul Pinsky, a Prince George’s Democrat and chairman of the AELR committee, said that developers wanted a “do-over” from the 2007 rules.

But Candace Donoho, lobbyist for the Maryland Municipal League, said groups repeatedly voiced their concerns between 2007 and 2009 before going public.

“We did raise the concerns as they were moving through” the regulations, Donoho said. “I was basically told if I didn’t accept what was coming down the road, it was only going to get worse.”

As criticism grew during the General Assembly, lawmakers, some environmental advocates, developers and local elected officials hammered out a compromise that addressed many of the biggest concerns related to the stormwater regulations.

While the compromise brought together developers and some environmentalists, it also opened a rift in Maryland’s environmental community that was visible during Tuesday’s three-hour hearing.

A coterie of environmental activists opposed the compromise, saying it would allow pollution to continue for too long during a critical time for the Chesapeake Bay.

“I feel like I’m at a funeral for the Chesapeake Bay,” said former state senator Gerald Winegrad.

Asked to explain the divide in the environmental community, Winegrad said that other environmentalists “made a very bad mistake and negotiated the compromise that is before us.”

Kim Coble, Maryland executive director for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, defended the environmentalists who favor the compromise and defended the measure itself.

Among other things, the new regulations define a time-span for projects to be grandfathered in under the old standard. The tougher regulations could have allowed for indefinite grandfathering of projects, Coble said.

“It contains a new provision which is to actually end grandfathering by the year 2017,” Coble said. “We actually look at this as an improvement.”

While the compromise drew extensive support from much of the General Assembly leadership and Gov. Martin O’Malley’s administration, it was unclear until Tuesday’s vote how the deal would be implemented.

At first, negotiators planned on moving the compromise regulations through the joint AELR Committee. But Pinsky quickly announced that he opposed the compromise and indicated that he would not schedule a hearing for his committee to consider it.

So lawmakers who supported the compromise amended the deal onto another stormwater-related bill. The House of Delegates overwhelmingly approved the compromise last month, and a Senate committee was set to hold a hearing on the legislation on Thursday if the AELR committee had declined to take a vote.

After it became apparent the alternative method would be successful, Pinsky relented and called a hearing on the compromise.

Members of the AELR Committee who were attending other, regularly scheduled hearings, were pulled out by staffers to vote for the compromise Tuesday evening.

The committee’s co-chairmen, Pinsky and Delegate Anne Healy of Prince George’s County, and Sen. Richard Madaleno of Montgomery County were the only members to oppose the compromise.

Read more articles and political observations from Tom LoBianco here.

Previous stormwater coverage from Center Maryland

Senator relents, schedules hearing on stormwater compromise

House approves stormwater legislation in effort to put compromise into law

With stormwater deal in jeopardy, House moves to impose compromise through legislation

Developers warn of economic costs of tough stormwater rules, say compromise can help ease the burden

Stormwater compromise still faces legislative hurdles

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
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