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Developers stream in for storm-water waivers

Developers have wasted no time, it seems, in seeking waivers from Maryland's new storm-water pollution regulations.

Environmental consultant Richard Klein reports that in a survey he's taken, county officials told him more than 400 requests have been filed for exemptions from the rules, which took effect less than two weeks ago.   The new rules require developers to leave enough open space in their projects so that rainfall will soak into the ground, rather than collect the runoff in ponds or underground tanks, as had been the norm.

The rush for waivers is not unexpected, since developers had complained the new requirements could raise the costs of projects already in the works and make it much more costly to redevelop in urban and older suburban areas.  Local and state officials had estimated that 1,000 to 1,500 projects statewide could be exempted for up to seven years under the changes adopted at the last moment by the Maryland Department of the Environment.  It may give more heartburn, though, to the state's environmental activists, who split bitterly over whether to give local governments more leeway in applying the regulations.

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Three-fourths of the waiver requests Klein learned about came in Baltimore County, which was in the forefront of local governments pushing the state to ease the new requirements, especially for redevelopment projects.  Another 70 came in Calvert County, and 23 in St. Mary's County, with a smattering in Dorchester, Frederick, Howard and Kent counties.  Only two-thirds of counties responded, but officials who did told Klein they expect to approve more than 90 percent of the waiver requests.

Given the prior estimate, the final waiver tally is likely to be much higher when all is said and done.  Many counties have no deadlines on applying for waivers, Klein says, though the state regulations specify that projects must have obtained preliminary local approval by May 4 to be "grandfathered" or exempted from the tightened storm-water control mandates.  Klein reports county officials told him they'd approved more than 900 storm-water control plans for development projects in the last 12 months -- after the state rules had been finalized, but before they'd been applied at the local level.

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Klein, founder and president of Community and Environmental Defense Services, conducted the survey in advance of a June 15 workshop in Annapolis for "clean-water advocates" on how to monitor and enforce the new storm-water control requirements.  His partner in discussing "environmental site design" will be Bruce Gilmore, a former longtime state official who's worked with environmental groups on storm-water issues.   The session is to be from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Annapolis library, 1410 West Street.  There's a $50 registration fee, required in advance, since space is limited.  To sign up or for more info, go here.

(Baltimore Sun photo by Jed Kirschbaum)

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