The county council voted 5-2 this afternoon to override last week’s veto by County Executive Laura Neuman of a stormwater pollution control fee. The fee is currently scheduled to start on July 1, and is now set at $85 per year for an average home in the county. (However, a proposed new bill was also introduced today by a majority of council members to phase in the fees, and lower bills for some businesses.)
The money to be raised by the fee will be used to hire contractors and construction workers. They will build wetlands, stormwater ditches and ponds, and other projects to catch and filter rainwater polluted with fertilizer, oil, antifreeze, and other toxic chemicals running off the land into the Chesapeake Bay.
The Anne Arundel County Council voted 4-3 last month to approve the fee. The investments in clean water are required by a 2012 Maryland law for the state’s 10 largest jurisdictions. The fees will help the counties and Baltimore meet EPA pollution limits for the nation’s largest estuary and follow a cleanup plan called the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint.
“Polluted runoff is the Bay’s growing pollution source, threatening not only crabs, fish, and other aquatic life, but also human health," said Alison Prost, Maryland Executive Director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
Voting in favor of the Bay cleanup by overriding the County Executive’s veto were council members Chris Trumbauer, Peter Smith, John Grasso, G. James Benoit, and Dick Ladd. On the other side were Council Chairman Jerry Walker and Councilman Derek Fink.
Clean water advocates owe thanks to all of the council members voting to override the veto. Special thanks are due to Councilman Chris Trumbauer, who introduced the bill; and to Councilman Peter Smith, who switched his earlier vote against the fee.
“My initial disagreement with the bill was not the purpose of the bill, but the impact on the residential and commercial communities that would have to pay for it,” Smith told the public before his vote yesterday. “ For the record, the science and data that describes the condition of the Bay are real. It is a fact that water quality has deteriorated over the last few decades. It is a fact that stormwater is one of the contributing factors that has led to the increase in nitrogen and other pollutants that are compromising this critical asset. It is also a fact that we have an obligation not just legally –- because it is mandated by the state -– but morally, because the Bay plays a significant role in the identity of Anne Arundel County.”
Some critics of stormwater pollution control fees have mocked them as a “tax on rain.” Bob Gallagher, co-chair of the steering committee of the Anne Arundel Chapter of the League of Conservation Voters, said this mockery is off-base because it fails to take into account the help that the fees will have on local streams and the local economy. Thousands of local construction workers and others are expected to be hired to build the stormwater pollution control systems.
“This is an investment in the future --an investment in clean water,” Gallagher said after the vote today. “It is going to help our maritime economy, and protect our public health. And according to the most recent studies, it is going to create jobs in this county. So how can you vote against that?”
The new proposed bill allows homeowners to phase in their payments over three years; extends the phase in period for businesses from two to three years; and will lower the fees for some business, by capping their fees at no more than 25 percent of their property tax obligation (instead of 35 percent, in the original legislation.) For details on the proposed bill, click here.
By Tom Pelton
Chesapeake Bay Foundation