SNOW HILL — Gov. Martin O’Malley’s call to curb new developments that would rely on septic systems has turned into a battle with Lower Shore farmers and Realtors who argue the governor’s proposal would ruin their chances to sell farmland and profit.
“They’ll be circling the State House with outhouses,” said a disgruntled Bud Church, an Eastern Shore Realtor and president of the Worcester County Commissioners. “As a Realtor, I will be speaking to my delegation to oppose it. I’m fighting this on two different fronts: personally, as someone involved in the industry, and as a political person.”
He’s not alone. Since O’Malley announced last week that he would either require new developments of five or more homes to operate on an approved, top-grade shared waste treatment system or hook into a public sewer system, farmers with land to sell and prospective developers and Realtors interested in buying it are mobilizing to halt the proposal, saying it would nail the coffin on already strained agriculture and housing sectors.
“It could slow down development, and we need more development,” said Barbara Outten, an administrative aid at the Somerset County Sanitary District, the agency that manages and monitors municipal water and sewer systems in sections of the county. “It is a bad time for that. Developers already with projects under way wouldn’t be able to develop because they would need to have what is required in the bill.”
O’Malley has made cleaning pollution from septic systems in rural Maryland among his top priorities this session. He backs the plan introduced by Sen.Paul Pinsky, D-Prince George’s, and Delegate Stephen Lafferty, D-Baltimore County, that also would mandate that new groups of four or fewerhomes install higher quality septic systems that remove more nitrogen than current systems. Groups of four or fewer homes would be allowed to operate on single systems, as many do now, but some critics argue that those systems cost about $12,000 more than current standard ones.
Somerset County Commissioners who govern one of Maryland’s most rural regions last week called on county agencies with interest in septic or water-sewer systems to petition state elected officials.