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Council ends Howard's contentious mulch debate, pulls legislation

Kate Magill
Contact ReporterHoward County Times

After nearly a year of debate over a bill that would regulate mulching and composting, the Howard County Council voted on Monday night to withdraw the proposal.

The vote came a month after County Executive Allan Kittleman announced he wanted to see the bill, which has drawn the ire of residents in western Howard County, withdrawn.

The original bill was introduced in July and criticized by residents in the rural portion of the county who worried about possible health dangers from industrial-scale mulching and composting, as well as increased truck traffic to haul the materials.

Farmers pushed back, saying they needed the bill to allow them to produce more mulch and compost, used for fertilizer, bedding and soil on farms. Some farmers also want the ability to sell some of their excess mulch and compost to bring in extra income.

Now that the bill has been withdrawn, it’s likely that possible changes to the county’s regulations will be made to the county code as part of an ongoing review of zoning rules.

In the meantime, farmers will continue to rely on the permitted farm practice uses in the current form of the code, last modified in 2014.

Howie Feaga, president of the Howard County Farm Bureau, said the organization sent a letter to the bill’s sponsors, Democratic council chairwoman Mary Kay Sigaty and Republican councilman Greg Fox, stating they were open to having the bill withdrawn and to include the changes as part of zoning code revisions.

Farmers are also waiting for possible regulations from the state’s Department of the Environment, which is studying compost and mulch practices. Feaga said he’s optimistic new regulations from the state could help farmers and possibly loosen restrictions in Howard County.

“We’ll just keep doing what we can do and bide our time and see,” Feaga said. “We’ve lost this battle but I believe the war is just about to get started and maybe we can have a better shot in the long run.”

Many residents on the other hand are “thrilled”, said Dayton resident Jim Nickel, a critic of the bill. Nickel said he and others have already reached out to officials at the state level to talk about health concerns as they study the practices.

“It’s a real relief,” Nickel said. “In the last three months, this is the first night that I’ve been able to sleep through the night. I woke up every night in the middle of the night thinking about mulch, so this was a big relief.”

kmagill@baltsun.com

twitter.com/kate_magill

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