Anne Arundel election: 3 topics that separate Schuh and Pittman on environmental policy

Rachael Pacella
Contact Reporterrpachella@capgaznews.com

A little over a month remains until Election Day, and candidates for county executive in Anne Arundel County have been busy explaining who they are to voters.

To help voters decide, The Capital took a look at one topic — environmental policy — in search of a clear idea of what separates incumbent Republican Steve Schuh and his challenger, Democrat Steuart Pittman.

Here’s a look at what we found:

Reforestation

Both candidates say they want more trees in the ground, but Pittman wants to increase fees to deter removal and Schuh wants the state to soften preservation easement requirements to allow more plantings on private land.

Schuh said developers generally have three options right now if they cut down trees — they can replace them on-site, replace them off-site, or pay a fee-in-lieu. The county can use that money, the fee-in-lieu fund, to purchase land and plant trees.

Pittman said he would increase that fee, discouraging developers from tearing down the trees in the first place. He also wants to work with the county council to pass a no net loss forest conversation bill that he says would be stronger than the state’s.

“We're going to continue to lose trees at a rapid rate if we don’t just stop cutting them down,” Pittman said.

Unlike Pittman, Schuh has said he will not increase fees.

Schuh said the county’s fee-in-lieu fund has ballooned to $8 million, but that the county is having a hard time finding property that is permanently protected to plant replacement trees on. He says right now the state only allows the county to plant replacement trees on private land if the land is protected in perpituity.

He wants the state to ease that requirement to something like 20 years, a move he feels would open private landowners up to the idea of accepting trees on their land.

The idea is to make the arrangement more flexible for property owners, so if they decide they want to expand their home and need to remove the tree they have that option, he said. The arrangement could include a requirement to then replace that tree, he said. Planting trees on private land is the future of the county’s forestry program, he said.

“Let’s just let them have the trees,” Schuh said.

It’s better where they are now, with no trees, he said.

Pittman opposes that idea, saying the trees could be cut down again after two decades and instead need an opportunity to grow.

Development

Anne Arundel County is growing — and having growing pains.

Schuh has committed to keeping 51 percent of the county in a rural or protected land use. He also said he will resist upzoning properties, allowing more dense uses that could usher in development.

Pittman’s stance is even harsher — he wants to stop some developments that are already in the pipeline. A development called the Enclave at Crofton hasn’t broken ground yet, Pittman said, and he will be exploring legal options to block that development as well as many others.

And in places where construction has started, Pittman said he sees a lack of enforcement of sediment and erosion controls. Workloads for inspectors are to high, he said.

He would hire more people to complete inspections — though he hopes to reduce the need for employees by reducing development — and also require the department of inspections and permits to give status reports on their performance.

Schuh said the county has a sufficient number of inspectors, who need to visit about six sites a day. He called it a full days work, but not more than an inspector could handle. Their goal is to visit sites twice a month.

He said the inspectors are doing a great job enforcing sediment control. They’re doing a good job enforcing erosion control, he said, but added that there is room for improvement. He said a riverkeeper recently suggested that the county specify the specific volumes of mulch and grass seed developers need to put down to stabilize a construction site, removing the subjectivity as to what adequate stabilization is.

“We’re evaluating that and other ideas to improve compliance with the erosion control side of the house,” he said.

Big ideas for the TMDL

Pittman has proposed adding an environmental policy director to the county’s staff, who would coordinate across all departments to meet pollution reduction goals.

He said the county has made progress on wastewater, agricultural pollution and stormwater management. But he sees a tough road ahead to meet the Chesapeake’s pollution diet, which is trying to limit the total maximum daily load (TMDL) of pollutants entering the bay.

“Without a plan and coordinated effort to pull together all the county agencies work on environmental issues we won’t get there and if we don’t get there, we pay fines,” Pittman said.

He would get rid of the education officer position established by Schuh to fund the new job.

Schuh also has a unique proposal to help meet the TMDL goals, which he hopes will both address what he said is the depletion of the region’s aquifer and pollution from wastewater.

Schuh said right now the county discharges treated wastewater into the region’s waterways, and that discharge carries nitrogen and phosphorous pollution.

He is asking the Department of Public Works to study ways to pump treated wastewater back into the aquifer, which would address the depletion of the aquifer and reduce pollution, he said, helping to meet 2025 pollution reduction goals. There is precedent, he said, in Hampton Roads, Virginia.

“If we can develop technology to recharge the aquifers, we will also be diverting phophorous and nitrogen away from our waterways,” he said.

Schuh said he will not increase the county’s state-mandated Watershed Protection & Restoration fee, sometimes called the rain tax. He will look for more funding options at the state level instead.

Pittman said he would fight off any attempt to get rid of the Watershed Protection & Restoration fee. If additional funding is needed to meet the county’s bay clean up goals, Pittman said he would increase new development impact fees rather increasing taxes for existing homeowners and businesses.

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