Septic tank on Baltimore County home under construction, 2011

Septic tank on Baltimore County home under construction, 2011 (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun staff 2011)

Gov. Martin O'Malley's retooled proposal to limit development on septic tanks gets a hearing in Annapolis today, along with his other major green initiatives - increasing the "flush fee" to fix wastewater treatment plants and providing ratepayer subsidies to boost offshore wind energy projects.

Lawmakers will hear from the governor on all three measures, but also from environmental and smart-growth activists, local officials, farmers and developers.

Among those making a case for curbing low-density development on septics will be the Queen Anne's Conservation Association, which commissioned a study of growth trends in the Eastern Shore county just across the Bay Bridge from Annapolis.   You can view a YouTube summary of the study by Washington College here:

Opposing the bill will be rural and some suburban officials, development and farming groups.  Interestingly, the Maryland Association of Counties, traditionally skeptical and even resistant of any state Smart Growth proposal, has decided to support the bill with amendments.  That may signify some support for the curbs among the more urban of the suburban counties, or it could be a ruse to appear supportive while proposing changes that effectively gut the legislation. 

Carroll County's commissioners, among the most vehemently opposed to any state role in curbing septics or limiting sprawl, take a hard line.  Richard Rothschild, vice president of the commissioners, contends in a letter to "fellow commissioners" that the bill violates constitutional protections of private property and due process.  He also challenges the contention of state officials and scientists that homes on septic systems foul the bay with any more nitrogen than do households whose waste is treated by a public sewage plant.

"This legislation crosses a line that cannot be measured in degrees," he wrote. "We either have fundamental property rights or we do not. Now is the time to draw a line in the sand to defend our autonomy, our local economies and our freedoms."