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Minnich: More than money down the drain

The rock that town and county governments are pushing up a hill got heavier and the hill got steeper when the Supreme Court refused to hear a county appeal to get a break on the rules for managing storm runoff.

It’s a classic case of putting things off until the fix really hurts. The best allegorical advertisement I ever saw showed a mechanic with auto parts strewn about. He was saying, “You can pay me now, or you can pay me later.”

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Being humans — even elected officials — we like to opt for later. But later is here and now.

Here’s the problem: The federal and state governments have faced the fact that the more paved surfaces and rooftops you allow to be built, the faster rainwater heads downhill toward the Chesapeake Bay. Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia all have to follow the feds, and the local governments have to listen up to the rules from the feds and the states. Even towns have responsibilities to mitigate the effects of what amounts to a giant toilet flush every time there’s a large volume of water passing through in a relatively short time.

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The politics of the controversy lies in the philosophically different definitions of what best serves the country, county or town. The Club for Growth, which is essentially a funder of campaigns for Republicans, advocates unfettered development and tax benefits for business.

The other camp is lumped together as the “tree-huggers” — like the Sierra Club — and a growing number of other groups whose voices are harder to ignore with the proof of their concerns coming in daily in the sciences of, well, the whole world.

The very words, “Climate Change” make the ground tremble with the rage of conservatives and climate change deniers who think they’re being blamed for causing hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, melting polar caps, rising ocean levels, lung-blackening CO2 and other forms of air pollution. Their argument is that it’s not their fault, and besides, you gotta have jobs because folks have to make money to live.

Well, you can pay up now or pay up later. But to paraphrase a current TV commercial trend, “But wait! There’s more!”

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This is the part that does not get enough attention: We’re up to our waste — pun intended — in our own effluent. Now.

The long and short of it is in the thinking — or lack of it — about the long-term consequences of business as usual. Those who have managed to get environmental regulations to the fore tend to think in a wider span of years, from a couple of years from now into the next century and beyond.

Those who resist changing our habits are prone to think as far ahead as the next quarterly report to investors, or the maturation of the loans that depend on current revenues.

The fact is we are down to the point where finding and allotting permits to draw potable water for growth is being manipulated, traded like shares in the stock market because of the clash of regulation based on science with the old paradigm of growth is not only good, it’s essential.

If you want to buy a lot and build a house, forget it. Land is scarce and permits go to the big outfits. Development persists, but individual home building is mostly history.

Growth can be good, but it’s not as essential as water.

When I was on the Board of Commissioners, the sewage treatment plant was feeding effluent into a small stream. The treated water was 2 degrees Celsius warmer warmer than the levels dictated for the benefit of the brown trout community in Baltimore County.

The trout seemed fat and sassy, so I asked the state to give us a break. But the state was adamant. Fix it.

The fine for non-compliance could have been $10,000 per day.

And just like that it all came into focus: Real estate development was good for the builders, not so good for brown trout, and over the long term lousy for the people, who would pay one way or the other, now or later.

Dean Minnich retired from journalism and served two terms as a commissioner. His email address is dminnichwestm@gmail.com.

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