County officials fear new septic requirement will hurt rural economies

A new home being built on septic in Baltimore County. County officials and Realtors are among those objecting to a state plan to help clean up the Chesapeake Bay by requiring less polluting systems on all new homes. (Kim Hairston / July 3, 2012)

Local officials are voicing concerns about the fiscal and economic impact of a state plan to require less-polluting septic systems on all future homes built beyond the reach of sewers.

In a letter this week to the General Assembly's Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review Committee, the Maryland Association of Counties said it's concerned about the O'Malley administration's proposed regulation requiring every new home built on septic use "best available technology" systems that release less nitrogen into ground water and the Chesapeake Bay.

While not outright opposed to the requirement, the county group says local health departments believe they'll be forced to hire additional people to inspect construction sites and enforce the regulation.  Leslie Knapp, the association's associate director, also contends that requiring nitrogen-removing systems, which cost twice as much as conventional septic, could hurt local economies. 

The septic requirement, when combined with a new energy-efficient building code and requirements that all new homes be equipped with fire sprinklers, could "substantially increase the cost of housing in rural jurisdictions at a time when individuals and families can least afford it," according to Knapp.

The rule, proposed by the state Department of the Environment as a complement to new state legislation limiting large-scale residential development on septic systems, has drawn fire from the Maryland Association of Realtors.  The home sellers' industry group contends such a requirement can only be imposed by the legislature, that it's overkill considering the amount of pollution from septic systems, and that it could add about $12,000 to the cost of each new home.

The proposed rule is slated for a hearing Tuesday (July 10) at 2 p.m.  The session will be in the Joint Hearing Room of the Legislative Services Building, 90 State Circle.