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In stormwater dispute, Carroll County commissioner reaches out to state officials, hoping to avoid Supreme Court

In the midst of Carroll County’s legal dispute with the Maryland Department of the Environment, Commissioner Stephen Wantz said he is setting up a meeting with state officials to possibly avoid facing off in the U.S. Supreme Court.

At Thursday’s Board of Commissioners meeting, Wantz said he emailed and sent letters on behalf of the board to Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh and Ben Grumbles, Maryland’s secretary of the environment, Feb. 14, but had not received responses. “I’m shocked that I have heard nothing. I’m just so shocked by that. Insert sarcasm here," he said.

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Friday afternoon, Wantz said he received a phone call from Grumbles, who said he was also calling on behalf of the Office of the Attorney General.

Wantz said Grumbles told him he would be willing to meet, and that the Office of the Attorney General would like to see a meeting agenda first.

“Let’s just call this cautiously optimistic right now," Wantz said Friday afternoon when asked his opinion of the progress, noting he was hoping he would also have heard from Frosh.

Wantz said he plans to meet with his staff and intends to respond to Grumbles by Monday.

“I wanted to see if there was a way in which we could reach an agreement on the request and not have it go to litigation," Wantz said.

Jay Apperson, deputy director of communications for MDE, wrote in an email Friday afternoon that they “appreciated” receiving Wantz’s letter.

“Secretary Grumbles called him today to let him know we were looking at potential next steps and we would keep him informed,” Apperson wrote.

Carroll and MDE disagree on how much land county government should be responsible for in respect to statewide efforts to limit the pollutants that rainwater washes into the Chesapeake Bay.

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With potentially millions of dollars at stake if they lose, Carroll County commissioners in October voted 3-2 to push its stormwater permit appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court after the Court of Appeals, Maryland’s highest court, sided with MDE in an August decision. Commissioners Ed Rothstein, R-District 5, and Wantz placed the two votes against.

The permit, known as the Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System permit, or MS4, regulates how much stormwater local governments can collect and dispense into local waterways. Carroll’s petition questions the jurisdictional limits of the federal Clean Water Act and a permit holder’s ability to challenge permit conditions.

The Supreme Court has yet to decide whether it will hear Carroll’s case. Carroll’s petition and the state’s response to it are scheduled to be reviewed Feb. 28 at a monthly conference of the justices, according to county attorney Tim Burke. He did not know if the justices will decide that day whether to hear Carroll’s case, “but we should know soon afterwards if it’s being taken up,” Burke wrote in an email.

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