County executive wants Howard mulch legislation withdrawn

Kate Magill
Contact ReporterHoward County Times

County Executive Allan Kittleman announced last night that he wants the contentious mulching and compost bill currently being considered by the County Council to be withdrawn.

The bill, which would allow mulch and composting practices on some farmland in the western portion of the county, could be acted on by the council as early as Monday.

Kittleman, who was a sponsor of the initial bill last year but who withdrew his name from the bill when it was reintroduced to the council in January, said he doesn’t believe it’s the right timing for the legislation.

The county executive said he communicated his desire to the bill’s sponsors, chairwoman Mary Kay Sigaty and councilman Greg Fox, Thursday. The council members were unavailable for comment this morning.

He announced his position at the Howard County Citizens Association’s annual town hall, held at the Bain 50+ Center in Columbia.

The Department of Planning and Zoning is in the midst of reviewing and updating its entire code, meaning that if the bill were passed now, the regulations may need to be revisited again in the coming months, Kittleman told the crowd. The decision to seek the bill’s withdrawal came together over the last few days, he said.

The code review began early last year, before the introduction of the initial compost and mulching bill. Kittleman said that while the timing issue “maybe should have been brought up” sooner as part of discussions of the bill, he’s focused on whether the legislation should move forward now.

The state’s Department of Environment is also studying mulch and compost practices and Kittleman said he wants to wait and see what is decided at the state level before making changes in county regulations. State legislation to commission the study passed in 2017.

Last week Kittleman announced his plans to introduce six amendments to the bill for tighter restrictions on mulch and compost operations, but because he said the bill is likely to be tabled by the council as early as Monday, he will wait until the end of the month to possibly file any amendments, if the bill has not yet been repealed.

However, he told the crowd that if it is not repealed and is not amended properly, he is prepared to veto the bill.

“If it’s not amended to a way that I feel comfortable with, then I’ll veto,” he said.

His announcement drew applause from the nearly 100-person crowd at the town hall meeting.

Howard County Farm Bureau President Howie Feaga said he’s disappointed by Kittleman’s announcement, which Feaga believes is politically motivated to secure western county residents’ votes in the upcoming county executive election.

“This whole’s things turned into politics. I just wish the politicians would realize there aren’t as many people wound up about this situation as they perceive it,” Feaga said Friday morning. “Most people don’t even understand what it is and the amendments that he came up with were not going to help the farmers in any way, shape or form, so it just as well could be withdrawn. I have always said the farmers will do what they need to survive, they always have and always will. We’re evidently going do it without political support.”

If the bill is withdrawn and mulch and compost regulations wrapped into the county’s comprehensive zoning code rewrite, Department of Planning and Zoning Director Val Lazdins said all information gathered during the bill’s history would be used as part of the revision process. Work on the write is expected to begin in late summer, according to Lazdins, and will likely take approximately two years.

Lazdins said the rewrite process will include chances for extensive public input and the new code will need County Council approval.

“I expect we’re going to have a whole host of topics that require special attention and I suspect that this is going to be one of them,” Lazdins said.

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