The Carroll County Board of Commissioners seems to be leaning toward remaining a member of the Clean Chesapeake Coalition, despite other member counties leaving the group and the possibility of membership dues increasing beyond $25,000 annually.

During the commissioners' meeting Thursday, several coalition members said the cost of membership dues, which were $25,000 in fiscal year 2015, could rise because other members have either left or are considering leaving.


County staff's recommended fiscal year 2016 budget includes $25,000 for membership dues.

The Clean Chesapeake Coalition is a group of Maryland counties focused on finding prudent and fiscally responsible means of improving the water quality of the Chesapeake Bay.

Chip MacLeod, an attorney hired by the coalition to conduct research, said Frederick County's newly elected County Executive Jan Gardner has informed the coalition of her intent to leave the group because of the fees associated with being a member. MacLeod also said that while Allegany County officials see the value of the coalition, they are considering taking an affiliate status with the group to cut back on dues.

"It costs about $300,000 a year for the coalition to do what it needs to do," MacLeod said. "More counties means less money [per county]."

In previous years, the member counties had agreed to cap their combined contributions at $300,000, meaning that MacLeod's law firm Funk & Bolton had to pay for all overages. The coalition's fiscal year 2016 budget has not been set yet, and for now — despite the possibility of losing members — the coalition is continuing on the assumption that each county will contribute $25,000, said MacLeod.

"We have gone over [budget] in the past, but we have not been requesting more money through the year," MacLeod said. "For FY16, depending on the scope of work, the members can discuss how much to contribute. We will do what all the counties want us to do, but there must be a recognition that our work does take time and money."

MacLeod said the majority of the cost associated with membership dues is for legal expenses, which the firm does not publicize. A very small portion is used for advocacy, such as the creation of signage and bumper stickers, and the remainder is used for research, he said.

"From a county budget standpoint we are a drop in each of the county's yearly expenditures, and have had a much more significant effect than the state's $14.4 billion budget for Chesapeake Bay restoration," MacLeod said.

Carroll Commissioner Doug Howard, R-District 5, said there is "no question as to the value" of the coalition.

"If everyone is all in, even if some counties have to give more than other counties, that's what needs to be done," Howard said. "If there are good things being accomplished but less counties involved and the price tag needs to go up to $35,000 or a $500,000 total budget, this needs to be done to really accomplish more."

Since the coalition's inception in 2012, they have filed an intervention with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which is responsible for licensing the Conowingo Dam, and have forced the state and energy companies to consider environmental issues upstream from the dam as a condition of relicensing, said Commissioner Richard Rothschild, R-District 4.

An independent geological survey conducted by the federal government determined that every time the reservoir at Conowingo Dam overflows — this happens two to four times a year at minimum — as much as 19 million tons of sediment, 4 million of which is scoured from the dam, and 10,600 tons of phosphorus enter the Chesapeake Bay.

"This is important to Maryland citizens because a failure to properly maintain the pond behind the dam results in additional pollution flowing into the bay, where it increases the cost to Maryland homeowners and businesses to clean up," Rothschild said.

Much of the pollution entering the bay comes from northern states such as New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania, he said, and thanks to the group's research, it is now forcing state agencies to start taking a regional look at the problem rather than "shifting all of the cost to the backs of Maryland taxpayers."


Commissioner Stephen Wantz, R-District 1, asked what efforts are being made to attract attention from other Maryland counties that are not involved.

Ernie Crofoot, administrator and attorney for Kent County, which is a member of the group, said the coalition has been making efforts to keep existing members involved by giving similar presentations to their elected officials. They have also been in touch with several counties that are not currently members, he said.

The coalition has presented to Wicomico County officials on several occasions, and has received word from new Anne Arundel County Executive Steve Schuh that he approves of the coalition's intentions and has made a request to commit funding in fiscal year 2016 to become a member county, he said.

They have not, however, approached counties in upstream states such as Pennsylvania and New York, MacLeod said.

When Dorchester County officials — who first contacted Funk & Bolton regarding their concerns about state-mandated costs associated with the implementation of Maryland's watershed restoration program — asked them to contact other jurisdictions, they only were concerned with getting other Maryland counties involved, he said.

The coalition has considered asking municipalities to get involved, and has been approached by agricultural interest groups that have wanted to contribute financially, but felt the involvement of these organizations could hinder their efforts, MacLeod said.

"Private-sector money changes our focus and possibly lessens our impact," he said. "Even out-of-state counties would add complications to our focus."

Their focus going forward, MacLeod said, is the federal relicensing of the Conowingo Dam and the state's recalibration of state-mandated costs to each county, a process set for 2017.

The state's Phase 1 and Phase 2 Watershed Implementation Plan was forced on counties by the Martin O'Malley administration and was not approved by the General Assembly, MacLeod said.

Phase 1, which was submitted to the federal government in December 2010, was an assurance to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that Maryland could meet the required total maximum daily loads of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment by its federally appointed deadline of 2020.

Phase 2, sent to the EPA in March 2012, dealt more specifically with the five major basins in Maryland that lead to the bay and includes steps such as upgrading wastewater treatment plants, stormwater management policies, regulating farmers, and upgrading septic systems to reduce the amount of pollutants entering the bay.

The coalition has called into question several of these tactics, especially septic system upgrade requirements. The EPA has set a maximum load of 169,000 tons of nitrogen in the bay, Rothschild said. The state has appropriated $3.7 billion of the total $14.4 billion being spent on the Watershed Implementation Plan to deal with septic systems, and the state is expecting to reduce the total tonnage of nitrogen by only 600, he said.

"[Maryland] is going to spend one-third of all of our Chesapeake Bay money on septics that won't even impact one-third of 1 percent of the nitrogen load," Rothschild said. "We aren't debating whether we should save the Bay, we are debating how we should save the Bay. We are on a course right now with state policy that is guaranteed to fail based on these metrics."