Cecil County Environment: “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” on Bay Pollution

November 15, 2011

It may be the Cecil County environmental equivalent of “don’t ask, don’t tell” when the county submits to the state of Maryland a mandated preliminary plan on curbing pollution of the Chesapeake Bay.

Cecil County Director of Public Works Scott Flanigan told the County Commissioners on Tuesday that lawyers for statewide stormwater and wastewater (sewers) organizations have advised local and county governments to say as little as possible on specific details for complying with pollution reduction goals as part of “watershed implementation plan” (WIP) mandates.

Keep it vague and with no commitments, the lawyers advised, so that the counties cannot be held responsible for detailed and specific targets—and their costs—for pollution reduction measures.

The sense of relief among the Cecil County Commissioners was palpable in the room on Tuesday, as they realized they would not have to make some very tough political decisions on pollution reduction measures in the next few weeks to meet previously declared deadlines for a county WIP plan.

Just a few weeks ago, Flanigan outlined to the county commissioners the potential $600 million costs to Cecil County of steps to comply with state and federal mandates to reduce pollution of the Chesapeake Bay, including mandatory upgrades of homes’ septic systems to costly nitrogen-reducing technology; extension of sewer lines to areas currently on septic systems; and costly programs to curb stormwater run-off in more urban areas of the county. [SEE previous Cecil Times news report here: http://ceciltimes.com/2011/11/cecil-county-faces-600-million-tab-for-bay-pollution-cleanup-homeowners-face-new-flush-mandates/ ]

But on Tuesday, Flanigan recanted his previously detailed scenarios, saying that the latest legal advice to the counties was to keep it as vague as possible.

“Don’t vote on the WIP, don’t approve it, don’t disapprove it,” Flanigan advised the commissioners. “Strip this thing down,” he advised, so that the county would comply with the bare minimum of state mandates but would not be held accountable in legal terms for specific steps to reduce pollution. As a result, the county would not specify the numbers of homes to be converted from private septic systems to public sewers or costly individual nitrogen-removal septic systems.

County Commissioners seemed greatly relieved and decided that the county’s response should be phrased as a proposal from the county staff, and not ratified or formally approved by the County Commissioners, for legal reasons.

Flanigan said that recent communications from the state indicated that the state would go ahead on its own to specify pollution limits before extended deadlines for the counties to submit their WIP pollution reduction plans. That indicates, Flanigan said, that the state plan is “not going to take into account the county plans” so there is little reason to offer difficult, detailed county pollution-reduction plans now.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Fine Maryland Wines
Proudly made in Cecil County