Town Allows Development in Critical Bay Areas, Sun Says

Part of the area planned for development at Elk Landing affects the Chesapeake Bay Critical area and in doing some research on that aspect of this issue, I located this piece from the Baltimore Sun in 2006, It says the town reversed its policy and allowed development in the Chesapeake Bay Critical Area.   Thus since criticl area regulations are involved in this current issue before the town board, I am posting this clips in the blogosphere.

Sun, The (Baltimore, MD)

September 11, 2006





Author: Sun reporter

Tom Pelton

Dateline: ELKTON


ELKTON — This rural town at the northern tip of the Chesapeake Bay broke ground in July on a new sewage treatment plant paid for, in part, with money from Maryland’s new “flush tax.”

Six days later, the mayor signed an agreement allowing a sprawling, 2,500-home development on cornfields, woods, wetlands and environmentally sensitive waterfront next to a bay tributary.

The timing wasn’t a coincidence. Elkton officials reversed their policy against annexing land for development as soon as the town received $7.5 million from the state’s Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund, according to town documents and officials. The fund provides grants to improve sewage plants using $30 annual fees paid by homeowners across the state.

The 2004 law – Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s signature initiative – has been applauded by environmentalists because it will help reduce of pollution flowing out of sewage plants, feeding low-oxygen “dead zones” in the bay.

But a review of the first 10 projects being built with money from the fund reveals that in some cases, the new plants are spurring development that is disturbing to conservationists.

Half of these new plants will have more capacity than the ones they’re replacing, to enable the construction of more homes. At least three of the plants – in Elkton, Kent Island and St. Michaels – will serve proposed developments with hundreds or thousands of new houses on environmentally sensitive waterfront areas, state records show.

So, even as the new plants reduce pollution into the water, the new development will bring other problems for the bay – more blacktop and, with it, more polluted runoff, as well as traffic and sprawl, critics say.

“Sewage treatment as a public service is a double-edged sword,” said George Maurer, director of land planning for the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy. “It can accommodate growth in the areas where you want it, and it can also be misused to allow more development than you want, in areas that aren’t suited for it.”

Some residents south of Elkton are angry that the $2.50-a-month flush tax payments they’ve been making to improve the bay are also helping a developer pave wetlands and fields.

“We thought the flush tax was for one thing – helping the bay – but it turns out it’s for something else,” said Elizabeth Keefer, a retired teacher who lives next to property targeted for development. “I always thought there was a snake in the grass.”

An Ehrlich administration spokesman staunchly defended the program, saying the state is paying for much-needed improvements to aging sewage treatment plants that have been fouling the bay.

“The governor’s program is one of the most proactive programs to improve the bay in the last 20 years,” said Robert Ballinger, spokesman for the Maryland Department of the Environment. The program is designed to help upgrade the largest 66 municipal waste treatment plants in Maryland and reduce the amount of nitrogen pollution flowing into the bay by 7.5 million pounds a year.

Ballinger said managing the growth that follows sewage improvements is primarily a local responsibility, not something for the state to decide.

“It’s a local issue, growth,” Ballinger said. “We are looking at the quality of the water and the quality of the bay. … . We don’t look at what they do afterward,” he said, unless new subdivisions exceed a plant’s capacity.

Del. Maggie L. McIntosh, the chairwoman of the House Environmental Matters Committee who played a key role in approving the program, said the intention of the fund was to improve – not expand – sewage plants.

“They are absolutely breaking the intent of the law,” McIntosh said of communities that use flush tax money to build bigger sewage plants. “We made it very clear that it is not the intent of the bill to encourage or spur further development or annexation.”

McIntosh, a Baltimore Democrat, said the Department of the Environment is wrong not to be more concerned about development that follows the grants. “I think the MDE should be about making sure our environment is protected, not about whether growth is protected,” McIntosh said.

Kim Coble, Maryland executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, agreed that the point of the “flush tax” was not to boost development. But she said concerns about sprawl and building in sensitive waterfront areas should be addressed by other state programs, not the bay fund.

“We know that there is increased population in Maryland and that people are going to be moving in,” Coble said. “With the increase in population, there is also going to be an increase in waste, and the best way to treat that waste is with sewage plants.”

In Elkton, Mayor Joseph Fisona and town contractors said the new plant will feature technology that will cut the amount of nitrogen pollution into the bay by more than half. The reduction will be significant even with the Southside LLC housing development, which could make the town of about 12,000 people almost 50 percent larger.

Fisona said Elkton couldn’t have afforded the bigger $40 million sewage plant without the state flush tax.

“There’s no sense in building this plant if there is no expansion and growth,” Fisona said. “We have a brand-new plant that will help the town grow and prosper, and we are also helping to make the Chesapeake Bay cleaner.”

As part of a loan program that has existed since the 1980s, the town is borrowing almost $24 million from the state for costs not covered by the $7.5 million flush tax grant and other funds.

To repay this loan, the town will be charging developers $5,000 per home toward the upgrade of the sewage plant. “We are definitely trying to attract growth now to help pay for the plant,” Fisona said.

Town officials believe the proposed 2,500-home, 707-acre Southside development, on the southern fringe of town, is appropriate because most of it would be on residentially zoned farmland in an area that the town has targeted for growth, local officials said.

Some of the land is wetlands and forests, and other parts have been designated by the state as an environmentally “critical area” marked for “resource conservation” because it’s within 1,000 feet of a bay tributary, the Big Elk Creek, said Elkton planning director Jeanne Minner. About 55 acres would have to be annexed into the town from Cecil County.

Until this spring, the town had a written policy saying it “shall not agree to annexations” in part because of a lack of sewage capacity. But officials revised that policy to say they “will consider an annexation” on May 17, the day the state approved the flush tax grant for Elkton’s new waste plant, records show.

The Southside project still requires a variety of local and state approvals, but the town has endorsed the concept and signed a sewer agreement with the developer, the mayor said.

Elkton is one of at least three communities that expect to see development in environmentally “critical areas” after sewage upgrades, state records show.

On the Eastern Shore, a sewage treatment plant being built for St. Michaels, in part with a $2 million flush tax grant, will mean that Talbot County won’t have any reason to deny a 279-home development on farm fields and wetlands beside the Miles River, said Talbot County Engineer Raymond P. Clarke. The Miles Point project has been fought for years by neighbors, who worry about its density and traffic.

“With the new sewage plant online, and the additional capacity, we are not in a position to say no” to the development, Clarke said.

The upgrade of a sewage plant on Kent Island will enable the construction of about 1,000 homes on wetlands, farms and forests beside the Chester River as part of the Four Seasons project, local officials said.

The county is seeking to use the expanded capacity of the new $32 million sewage plant to attract businesses along Route 50 and encourage home construction in Grasonville, said Queen Anne’s County administrator Paul Comfort.

“The county is trying to grow our business base by growing our sewage capacity,” Comfort said. “We would like to have some affordable work force housing in Grasonville, and additional sewage capacity would be good for that.”

In handling the finances for the new plant, Comfort said, the county has tried to keep the $6 million in state flush tax grants – intended for nitrogen removal equipment – separate from other funds being used to expand capacity.

But J. Charles Fox, a former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency official who supervised national sewage programs, said such distinctions are semantic. Maryland is essentially helping local governments expand their sewage plants by handing out money instead of requiring them to pay for nitrogen control equipment themselves.

“This is at best a missed opportunity and likely a real significant blow to state Smart Growth policies,” said Fox, who was Maryland’s secretary of natural resources in Gov. Parris N. Glendening’s administration.

The bay fund “is a tremendous incentive package that could be used to direct growth to those areas best suited to accommodate it. It seems like that opportunity is being missed,” Fox said.




One response to “Town Allows Development in Critical Bay Areas, Sun Says

  1. Tom Paine's Ghost

    Where is the Cecil Whig

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