ANNAPOLIS — A measure banning septic systems for new, major subdivisions in Maryland should be delayed for further study, because lawmakers from both parties are worried about its economic impact, a key lawmaker recommended to Gov. Martin O’Malley.
Del. Maggie McIntosh, a Baltimore Democrat who chairs the House Environmental Matters Committee, recommended in a letter Monday to the governor that a task force study the idea and report back by Dec. 1.
McIntosh noted in the letter that growth and the proliferation of septic systems will ultimately reverse advances the state is making by investing in wastewater treatment plant upgrades.
“However, an outright ban could and would have a disproportionate impact on several counties in Maryland,” McIntosh wrote, adding that she believes the proposal should be coupled with initiatives that help farms and rural counties.
O’Malley, a Democrat, has backed a bill to have homebuilders install top-grade septic systems in new developments as part of an effort to control rural growth and pollution in the Chesapeake Bay. He expressed his support for the proposal during his State of the State speech last month. The announcement surprised many lawmakers, and angered Republicans from rural counties.
Democrats also have expressed concerns. In a Feb. 24 letter, seven Democrats from rural and suburban communities wrote McIntosh that they were concerned about how the proposal could hurt private sector investment in the state.
“Every county in the state would be impacted by this legislation and, for several counties, the cost to build out public sewage systems into more remote parts of the county would cripple development and expansion into those areas,” the letter said.
The letter was signed by Dels. John Bohanan, D-St. Mary’s; Norman Conway, D-Wicomico; Mary-Dulany James, D-Harford; David Rudolph, D-Cecil; Galen Clagett, D-Frederick; Steven DeBoy, D-Baltimore County; and Sally Jameson, D-Charles.
Shaun Adamec, an O’Malley spokesman, said the governor believes the state has reached the point where strong measures need to be taken to reduce pollution from septic systems. Adamec said O’Malley still will support the bill as it has been introduced.
“If, in the end, there are legislators who believe there is not enough information to support that, then we need to get that information so that we can have an informative debate on this,” Adamec said.
The bills (HB 1107 and SB 846), introduced by Sen. Paul Pinsky, D-Prince George’s and Del. Stephen Lafferty, D-Baltimore County, would mandate new developments of five homes or more operate on top-grade shared septic systems. New groups of four or fewer homes would still be allowed to operate on less-expensive single septic systems, which would still be required to remove more nitrogen than current systems.