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Agreement on rules to grow, protect bay

OCEAN CITY — What the group called a “fragile compromise” has been reached between Maryland officials and local development stakeholders on how to manage pollution expected to be caused by continued growth around the state.

During a panel discussion of Maryland’s Accounting for Growth policy at the annual conference of the Maryland Association of Counties on Thursday, members of a work group formed to discuss regulatory recommendations reviewed a plan that would manage pollution anticipated to be caused by the 478,000 new households predicted in Maryland by 2035.

The work group plan is expected to be reviewed by members of the General Assembly in September.

The soon-to-be-proposed regulations stem from federal Clean Water Act requirements that have led the state to devise a plan to restore water quality in Chesapeake Bay, which is polluted by nutrient runoff from development and agriculture sites within its multistate watershed.

The proposed rules could restrict or halt growth in some areas of the state, but a credit system is being devised that could help offset the impact of development in agricultural, forest and urban areas. For example, a paved surface in one spot could be offset by a new set of planted trees in another. The proposals have come under fire from rural counties, which fear new permit requirements will adversely impact economic development.

“There’s sort of an uneasy truce right now,” said Erik Michelsen, executive director of the Edgewater-based South River Federation.

Under a working time frame, developers would be required to offset growth impacts by January 2015. The Maryland Department of the Environment is spearheading regulation writing. Public hearings will be held before regulations go before a legislative committee that would give final approval to the new rules, MDE Deputy Secretary David A. Costello said.

The offsets are in addition to total maximum daily load targets, which describe how much of a pollutant a body of water can take on while still maintaining water quality standards. Costello said revitalizing Chesapeake Bay would have “tremendous economic value.”

Maryland has moved most aggressively to limit pollutants among states within the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, frustrating local governments that see their master development plans and the jobs that facilitate such development put in jeopardy by limiting growth.

Parts of New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia, Delaware and all of Washington, D.C., join Maryland in the bay watershed.

“Other states aren’t stepping up,” Costello said. “Frankly, they never have the way Maryland wanted them to.”

The state’s new stormwater management guidelines are also part of bay cleanup efforts. In a separate panel discussion on Thursday, advocates of greater stormwater remediation said Maryland was far behind some other states in mitigating the impact of runoff from impermeable surfaces, especially in urban areas.

“We are a decade or more behind,” said Dan Nees, a senior research associate with the University of Maryland Environmental Finance Center. He later added the state was only now “starting to catch up.”