By Delegate Mike McDermott
Feb. 14th, 2011
Today, the Eastern Shore and all the rest of Maryland received a Valentine’s Day surprise delivered by Governor O’Malley and two metropolitan legislators in the form of a coming moratorium on the use of septic systems. Citing the need to make further progress on the Bay, the Governor said now was the time to get serious on the way we develop and deal with sewage treatment. The sweeping legislation being offered by Del. Lafferty and Senator Pinsky would not allow any significant development of land to occur outside of areas serviced by wastewater treatment plants. In his remarks, the governor did not shy away from the notion that this has all the potential of reducing the value of land in many areas around the state, and, in particular, the Eastern Shore.
The irony of this must not be lost in the shuffle. Here we have a Baltimore Delegate introducing legislation that will have incredible impact on rural counties. He also highlighted Worcester County as being a poster child for this type of legislation. Now while I love hearing the lower shore being touted as an example for the rest of the state, it would have been nice if the delegate had taken the time to speak with those of us on the shore who represent areas that have already taken the lead in conservation, resource, and septic management. We call that “buy in”, and it is sorely lacking from the governor’s proposal.
Planning is a key element governing growth and it should always be performed as close to the people as is possible. The reason that Worcester County has been so successful is the very reason the governor’s plan will be problematic. The county took several years to garner input from all interested citizens in Worcester County. It also involved direct feedback from every local government entity prior to being implemented. This collaborative effort brought farmers, developers, civic leaders, environmentalists, and the business community together for the overall good of the whole county. In the end, the plan reflected the goals and desires of our folks moving forward.
Good planning is best performed at the local level. Infusing more centralized power into the MD Dept. of Planning is not the answer when it comes to encouraging smart growth initiatives. In fact, several counties on the shore are already utilizing best growth practices when it comes to this issue. The same cannot be said for much of the western shore, including many metro areas such as Prince Georges County.
Following the press conference, I spoke directly with the Secretary of Planning, Richard Hall, and told him of my concerns. I further conveyed that, like many programs coming to us from the administration, there is no buy in at the legislative level with those who will inherently find themselves in opposition from the get go. This is not leadership and it is not based on the sound principles of taking time to get legislation correct before attempting passage.
I encourage all who share my concerns to stay vigilant and aware as these bills begin to make their way through the House and Senate.