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News Opinion Readers Respond

O'Malley is waging war on rural Maryland

I am writing in response to The Sun's editorial regarding septic tank limits, "Plowing old ground" (Feb. 15).

I have introduced legislation to repeal the Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act of 2012, the law requiring counties to adopt a tier system thus limiting new residential developments with septic systems. The state has told the counties they must either adopt the tier system established by the state or limit new major subdivisions, currently six or more housing units in Queen Anne's County, to land on public sewer.

The ability to develop is one of a bundle of rights that comes with property ownership. Each right that comes with property ownership has a certain value to it. Revoking an owner's development rights reduces the value of that property.

Advocates contend that the loss of property rights and value is a worthy sacrifice to ensure a healthy Chesapeake Bay because septic systems are so damaging. Your editorial argues, "Failing septic tanks are a significant source of water pollution in the Chesapeake Bay." The truth is that Maryland accounts for about 20 percent of the bay's nitrogen load. Septics account for 4 percent to 8 percent of Maryland's load. That means Maryland septic systems account for 0.8 percent to 1.6 percent of the bay's nitrogen load.

Instead, urban living is considered the superior alternative. But assertions that the state should steer development to cities and towns served by public water and sewer ignore the pressure dense population puts on infrastructure. With every major storm, The Sun prints stories of sewage overflows from wastewater treatment plants into open waters. Millions of gallons of untreated sewage are released into the Chesapeake Bay. Ironically, the Maryland Department of the Environment consistently asserts that septic systems are the culprit for the Chesapeake's deterioration, and while concerning, the spills have little negative impact to bay health.

No, the 2012 law was less about septic systems and more about land control. Not just does the law strip landowners of their property rights but also local government of its planning authority. With the passage of this law, the secretary of the Maryland Department of Planning has become the state's de facto land planning czar.

Twelve counties have registered their opposition to the law by failing to file tier maps with the state. Indeed, local jurisdictions would rather take their chances in court, fighting for their planning authority, than to stand by helpless and allow that power to be stolen by state regulation.

The Sun's editorial attempted to debunk the belief that the state is waging a "war on rural counties." Only the biased and blind could fail to see what is blatantly apparent — that the policies and legislative proposals of Gov. Martin O'Malley's administration, from the septic system ban to wastewater improvement, will strip rural Maryland of any real opportunity to create jobs and boost its economy. If that's not war, I don't know what is.

E.J. Pipkin, Annapolis

The writer, a Republican, represents Caroline, Queen Anne's, Kent and Cecil counties in the state Senate.

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