Environmental conflict dominates City Council meeting

Danielle Ohl
Contact Reporterdohl@capgaznews.com

Trees and waterways dominated discussion in City Council chambers Monday night as two pieces of environmental legislation came up for public comment and two more passed into law.

The council — sans Mayor Gavin Buckley, who is visiting his mother in Australia — banned polystyrene foam containers, which restaurants typically use to package takeout food. The ban carries a $100 penalty for the first violation. Repeat violations will cost $200.

With the ban, officials hope to keep foam cups and containers out of trash cans and ultimately the bay, where their brittle structure can break down into microplastics. These bits confuse sea creatures, which can get sick after consuming them.

But restaurateurs and business advocates cautioned a ban on the cheap packing material might overwhelm razor-thin financial margins of some restaurants.

Several environmental advocacy groups sent representatives to support the ban.

“We do know that these and other plastic items are among the many perpetrators causing the ecological collapse of Back Creek,” said David Barker, chair of the Back Creek Conservancy.

Mike Levy, director of Plastics Foodservice Packaging Group, opposed the ban, encouraging the council to opt instead for an education campaign about the material.

“There’s no product that does the insulation like that,” Levy said, noting several local businesses use the packaging.

The council also passed a resolution in support of the Back Creek Conservancy’s application to make the waterways of Anne Arundel County a no-discharge zone. Should the state and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approve the application, vessels with bathrooms would not be allowed to dump treated waste into the county rivers and creeks.

Dumping raw sewage is already banned, but federally-approved systems allow boaters to treat their waste with chemicals and flush it into the waterways. The resolution of support has six co-sponsors. Environmentalists back the measure as a way to incrementally decrease the amount of nitrogen entering the water, thus cutting down on algae blooms.

Herring Bay became the first no-discharge zone in Maryland, followed by the back bays behind Ocean City, Maryland. An application for Chester River is pending.

Should the EPA approve the zone, boaters will have to pump out their waste at designated areas. There are 13 public pump out zones in Annapolis, but some live-aboard residents have expressed concern the dumping ban will prove difficult in the winter months.

The Maritime Advisory Board, in comments on the application, said it has concerns about the efficacy of a program that does not cover the entire bay and singles out the maritime industry.

In public comment, developers and environmentalists faced off on legislation designed to protect the environment.

One protects Annapolis forest by removing a reforestation credit developers can use to count against their tree replanting responsibility. Under the ordinance, developers would have to replace every acre of trees cut with an another acre of trees.

Members from environmental groups spoke of the benefits of mature trees, which clean the air and mitigate stormwater at a higher rate than saplings.

Alan Hyatt, an attorney who represents several developers with city projects, pointed to aspects of the law that would make growth in opportunity zones onerous — a $10 per square foot fee in lieu of replanting and scant free acreage where developers can replant.

Annapolis Environmental Committee chair Diane Butler pushed back, citing a city forester report identifying 59-61 acres open for replanting.

Another bill instructs city staff members to enforce a higher standard of stormwater treatment for development — 100 percent treatment on redevelopment sites and 150 percent on new development sites.

Testimony was much the same, breaking down with developers against and environmentalists in support.

Alex Kopicki, a developer with Solstice Partners LLC, tried to dispel the notion that developers are anti-environment.

“We do not have a hidden agenda,” Kopicki said, pointing to the innovative stormwater treatment methods developers introduce to older sites.

He called the resolution detrimental to the environment, as it hampers redevelopment of degraded properties with poor stormwater treatment. Kopicki said the additional standards are “extreme and unfair” to those developers working under one set of rules.

“For this partnership to work, we’re relying on fair and predictable government,” he said, “government that doesn’t change the rules at a drop of a hat.”

Other business

The council approved 10 nominations to the Arts in Public Places Commission, the Financial Advisory Board and the Planning Commission. The appointments are a part of the Buckley administration’s ongoing efforts to, under coordinator William Rowel, diversify the volunteer bodies with residents of varying ethnicities, backgrounds and experiences.

Of the five new candidates approved Monday night, all were women of varying backgrounds.

During the general comment period, Annapolis resident Arthur Greenbaum called for Buckley, who was not present, to step down.

“The city government is not functioning properly,” Greenbaum said, facing the audience, speaking with a booming voice. “That the mayor of the city is going off his rocker — doing things without the app of the City Council, the Historic Preservation Commission.”

Alderwoman Rhonda Pindell-Charles and Chief of Staff Susy Smith followed Greenbaum out of the session to set up a meeting between him and the mayor.

Pindell-Charles explained where he was, traveling to Australia to visit family. “He should stay there,” Greenbaum said.

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A previous version of this story misstated the fee in lieu for replanting trees. It is $10 per square foot.
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