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Baltimore County fights pollution with street sweeping

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz takes a spin in one of the county's new street-sweeping trucks during a demonstration at Wilson Point Park in Middle River Tuesday. The county is using stormwater remediation fees - dubbed the "rain tax" by opponents - to revive a street-sweeping program. By removing debris from streets, less sediment and nutrients wash into creeks and rivers that feed the Chesapeake Bay.
Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz takes a spin in one of the county's new street-sweeping trucks during a demonstration at Wilson Point Park in Middle River Tuesday. The county is using stormwater remediation fees - dubbed the "rain tax" by opponents - to revive a street-sweeping program. By removing debris from streets, less sediment and nutrients wash into creeks and rivers that feed the Chesapeake Bay. (Pamela Wood)

Baltimore County officials on Tuesday showed off how they've been spending money from the so-called "rain tax" — reviving a street-sweeping program that they say is keeping dirt and debris out of the county's waterways.

Since May, the county has collected 562 tons of debris with the street-sweeping trucks, resulting in a pollution reduction that officials said equates to 843 pounds of nitrogen, 337 pounds of phosphorus and 168 tons of suspended solids — tiny particles of dirt that cloud the water. Nitrogen and phosphorus are nutrients that spur the growth of algae blooms that suck oxygen from the water.

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"This program would not have happened without implementation of the stormwater fee," County Executive Kevin Kamenetz said before hopping behind the wheel of a public works street-sweeping truck for a demonstration at Wilson Point Park in Middle River.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the county had a robust street-sweeping program, but it petered out over the years. The county was only sweeping streets in response to resident requests, said Edward C. Adams Jr., director of the Department of Public Works. Officials said the money from state-mandated stormwater fees — dubbed the "rain tax" by opponents — allowed the county to buy eight new sweeping trucks and hire two trucks on contract.

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The county is spending $1.6 million in the first year of the sweeping program, which represents about 5 percent of the stormwater fees collected from property owners.

Baltimore County's annual stormwater remediation fees for residential homeowners are $21 for townhomes and duplexes, $32 for condominiums and $39 for single-family homes. Business properties are charged based on the size of impervious surfaces.

Bob Bendler of the Wilson Point Community Improvement Association said he's glad to see the money being put to work. The stormwater fees also are used for cleaning storm drains, restoring eroded streams and planting trees.

"Nobody likes the rain tax, but we love the benefits we get from it," he said. "Maybe it's worth it to pay a little extra tax when this is what you get from it."

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