The Carroll Board of County Commissioners voted to approve the joint operating agreement among the eight municipalities and the county, which will enable them to share the same federal permit and the costs of stormwater management projects, at a meeting Thursday night.
The agreement will put the municipalities under the same Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System, or MS4, Phase 1 permit under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System. Until now, the county, which is more densely populated, has held a Phase 1 permit while the municipalities that are less dense have had Phase 2. The joint permit is good for five years.
The agreement is expected to potentially save the municipalities millions of dollars, said Henry Heine, city manager for Taneytown. Now that the agreement has been approved, the cost of all stormwater mitigation projects will be split, with the county paying 80 percent and the municipalities paying the remainder.
The county will be paying about $9 million, and the incorporated areas will be picking up about $2.2 million of roughly $12 million of federally mandated stormwater mitigation projects within municipal borders. The county will also be responsible for the cost of projects that lay outside of those borders, adding an additional $12 million to the projected total.
The agreement will be sent to state and federal officials for review, and they are expected to issue the permit by the end of the year.
Frank Schaeffer, town manager of New Windsor, and Steve Miller, town manager of Manchester, appeared before the board at its Thursday morning meeting and said all of the eight municipalities have signed off on the agreement.
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Commissioner Richard Rothschild said he voted for the agreement because it needs to move forward but wanted to make sure that the municipalities don't lose any of their rights by signing it. He suggested adding a single line to the agreement ensuring the protection of municipal rights.
Both the counties and towns have been granted protection by federal laws, which give them the right to demand coordination with government agencies if environmental regulations present undue hardships on these jurisdictions, he said. The commissioners want to make sure they preserve those rights, both individually and collectively.
"The rights that all the county's municipalities have when entering into the agreement should remain the same," Rothschild said.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency established the MS4 permit program in the 1990s to regulate pollutants discharged in waterways at identifiable sources. The program also aims to mitigate the effects of impervious surfaces, such as concrete, which trap water above ground and reduce the rate at which aquifers replenish.
Heine said nothing like the agreement has happened since the municipalities agreed to sign a unified trash contract many years ago. This is actually an even bigger accomplishment, he said, considering the county was also involved.
"This is huge," Miller said. "It's a big deal that the county and all eight municipalities could come together on this and work it out."
Reach staff writer Wiley Hayes at 410-857-3315 or email@example.com.