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After high court ruling, O’Malley says legislature needs to help Board of Public Works

Gov. Martin O'MalleyAfter most of a grueling, six-hour Board of Public Works meeting on Wednesday was devoted to a proposed residential project in an environmentally sensitive area, Gov. Martin O’Malley said Thursday the General Assembly may need to act so the board has authority to deny such developments.

The project by developer K. Hovnanian Homes, which seeks to build more than 1,000 homes on the Chester River in Kent Island, requires a wetlands permit from the state. The board rejected the proposal in 2007, arguing that the development — in an environmentally sensitive “critical area” near Chesapeake Bay — would harm the bay.

But the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled last year that the board exceeded its authority in that decision, and sent the issue back to the board with instructions that it had to base its decision only on whether the project would damage wetlands in the area.

Led by an apparently irritated O’Malley and Comptroller Peter Franchot — and joined by Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp — the board agreed to delay a vote on the permit Wednesday while Queen Anne’s County officials seek guarantees from the developer that impacts of the project’s construction will be reduced.

In the meantime, O’Malley said Thursday that the legislature ought to think about changing state law to ensure the board is able to consider such issues from a broader perspective than Maryland’s high court has allowed.

“This also could be where, frankly, we need to do more work in next year’s General Assembly,” O’Malley said. “Sometimes the Board of Public Works has to make decisions in critical areas … and we need to better and more directly articulate that, in fact, sea level rise inundation and that threat to human health and human life needs also to be a consideration as we seek to protect the other living systems of our wetlands and our shorelines.”