Carroll County Times

Clean Chesapeake Coalition says it wants to engage with government over bay regulations

A group of attorneys representing Carroll and six other counties in Maryland said Wednesday it wants to engage with the state and federal government over regulations imposed to restore and save the Chesapeake Bay, which it said could hurt Carroll and the other jurisdictions.
The attorneys, most of whom represent the Clean Chesapeake Coalition, said they want to engage in a process they called "coordination" with the federal and state government at a meeting at the Carroll County Government Offices. The attorneys said under the process, the counties will come up with their own plans concerning water quality and bay cleanup and attempt to engage with various state and federal agencies over the plans.
The county approved paying at least $25,000 in November 2012 to join the coalition, then called The Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) Coalition. The group advocates for cost-effective solutions for cleaning and restoring the bay and challenges existing environmental polices.
The attorneys said if the state and federal agencies do not engage with the counties, they can take them to court to force them to do so. The attorneys said the National Environmental Policy Act, and other federal laws, dictate that environmental regulations need to be implemented in consultation with local government.
Attorney Fred Kelly Grant, who is consulting attorneys for the coalition, said he has been involved in 108 cases across the country using the process of coordination. He said in all of the cases the state and federal agencies implementing environmental polices have coordinated with local governments and avoided going to court.
"It is a conflict resolution policy and process put in place by the Congress and by every state in the legislature - all 50 states - have in their statutes the mandate that agencies coordinate with local government," Grant said.
The attorneys said they want to ask the six other counties in the coalition if they want to engage in the coordination process. They may collect stories from local residents on how the bay restoration efforts have affected them and gather information from experts, which they can use to create a water quality policy for the bay. They can also use it as a record for testimony in hearings or in possible litigation.
The coalition's general counsel, Charles D. "Chip" MacLeod, of Funk & Bolton, P.A, said the attorneys hope to avoid a costly lawsuit with the state and federal government.
To a group of more than 20 residents at the meeting, the attorneys questioned how effective federal and state bay cleanup efforts have been.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency created in 2010 the Total Maximum Daily Load, a pollution diet that sets limits on how much nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment can reach the bay from each state in the watershed. In 2012 Maryland passed H.B. 987, which required 10 jurisdictions - including Carroll County - to implement a fee that would pay for a wastewater protection and restoration program.
Carroll County commissioners decided not to implement a fee. Instead, they decided to pay for any restoration efforts with reserves in the first year of implementation and bonds in later years. The county will pay a projected almost $20.2 million for stormwater projects over six years, which will be based on its new NPDES draft permit.
The permit is still in the process of being drafted. The county expects that it will have to mitigate an additional 20 percent of impervious surfaces in the areas it controls.
The attorneys pointed out the issues concerning the Conowingo Dam, which connects Cecil and Harford counties, and questioned why the dam was not being made a priority. A 2012 U.S. Geological Survey report noted that in the decade preceding the report 79,000 tons of nitrogen, 4,800 tons of phosphorus and 4.8 million tons of sediment flowed through the Conowingo annually into the bay in the 10 years prior to the report.
The report noted that the Susquehanna River contributed 41 percent of the nitrogen, 25 percent of the phosphorus and 27 percent of the sediment to the bay's waters. The attorneys said during storm events, the dam's trapped sediment scours over the dam, causing large problems.
Although they agree it is major issue, environmental groups have said the Conowingo issue has been used as a red herring by anti-tax officials, and say that stormwater and wastewater treatment plant upgrades are still important to the bay's cleanup. They argue that all watershed jurisdictions need to do their part to clean the bay.
Most of the money for the coalition - each county paid at least $25,000 to join - went toward attorneys' fees to file a motion to intervene on the re-licensing of the Conowingo Dam, which is controlled by the energy company Exelon Corp. The intervention allows the coalition the chance to voice its opinion throughout the re-licensing process, and potentially sue if it is unsatisfied with the final product.
County Commissioner Richard Rothschild, R-District 4, the representative to the commissioners for the coalition, said the county needed to battle the regulations to protect itself.
"Our way of life is not going to defend itself," he said.