Frederick County has decided to launch a penny protest of Maryland’s new stormwater pollution control law. Sadly, the protest will prove costly to county residents over the long term, in contaminated streams, flooded basements, lost recreational opportunities, and reduced property values.
Forced by a 2012 state law that requires the state’s 10 largest jurisdictions to create stormwater control fees, the Frederick County Board of Commissioners recently decided to start charging eligible properties one cent per year. That will generate a grand total of $487.81 for the county annually -– hardly enough to meet its legal obligations to clean up its own local streams and protect the health of its citizens from water pollution.
Blaine Young, President of the Frederick County Board of Commissioners, said of the stormwater fee mandate: “It’s absolutely absurd.”
Not really. Residients in Frederick County, as well as across the Chesapeake Bay region, want to fish, swim, and wade in local streams that are now polluted by stormwater. Investments in modern stormwater pollution control systems help people enjoy their streams more, and can prevent fish kills, which have hurt the Monocacy River in Frederick County. But investments, of course, require money.
Frederick County cannot ignore EPA pollution limits and the related science-based plan for reducing pollution, called the Chesapeake Bay Clean Water Blueprint. This plan requires all of the state and local governments in the Bay region -- including Frederick County -– to do their fair shares to control and filter stormwater.
“One penny is not going to cut it,” Maryland’s Secretary of the Environment, Dr. Robert Summers, said of Frederick County’s one-cent plan. “This is a federal Clean Water Act requirement. There are certainly provisions in both federal and state law that require us to properly deal with our storm water. So there definitely is an enforcement provision there.”
Harford, Howard and Baltimore counties all recently approved stormwater control fees. They range from $39 per year for an average house in Baltimore County, to $125 in Harford County, with more for businesses. On June 17, Anne Arundel County will consider an $85 annual fee for an average home (after a three-year phase-in).
After Montgomery County passed a stormwater pollution control fee of $70.50 a year for an average home a few years back, county officials found they had created about 3,300 construction and engineering jobs. The fees paid for $305 million in local construction projects.
That is real income from clean water, not pennies thrown in protest.
By Tom Pelton
Chesapeake Bay Foundation
(Photo of penny from iStockphoto)