New Bay Cleanup Plan Could Leave St. Mary's Co. with Big Bill - Southern Maryland Headline News

New Bay Cleanup Plan Could Leave St. Mary's Co. with Big Bill

By Guy Leonard, County Times

HOLLYWOOD, Md. — A briefing by planning and zoning officials to the Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday, January 11, laid out a laundry list of land use decisions and issues that elected officials will face this year and into 2012, but perhaps none will be as daunting as creating a watershed implementation plan (WIP) for the county to do its part to help clean up the Chesapeake Bay.

The Environmental Protection Agency has established tough new mandates for cleaning up pollutants like nitrogen and phosphorous for all the states that feed into the bay’s watershed per an executive order from President Obama, but counties that will bear much of the brunt of how those plans are implemented are finding out just how expensive it could be.

Derick Berlage, director of the Department of Land Use and Growth Management, told commissioners that Anne Arundel county’s WIP could cost them an estimated $2 billion to implement over the next 25 years.

Over the same period of time and calculating for the population in St. Mary’s County, Berlage estimated that it cost the county $300 million to put the same kind of plan into practice.

The figure was not exact, and much is still unknown about the actual cost but county officials did not believe the plan would be cheap.

“It’s just a guess but it show’s you it’s a big number” the county can expect to pay, said County Administrator John Savich.

To boot, Berlage said, there appears to be no money coming from the state or federal governments to help.

The WIP also figures prominently with the commissioners’ responsibility of updating the zoning ordinance to match new critical area laws that restrict much of what property owners can do near the watershed and shoreline.

Berlage said that the last time the county updated that portion of its zoning ordinance was 2003; this time land use staff would attempt to find ways to alleviate some of the burdens property owners in the critical areas face.

Berlage said that nearly one-fifth the county’s residents are subject to critical area restrictions and has seen examples where a family that wanted to build a home had to spend tens of thousands of dollars in tree plantings and other mitigation measures just to comply with state mandates.

St. Mary’s County has more shoreline than any other county in the state, and officials and residents here have complained that the county bears the brunt of the critical area laws with relatively little say in their impacts.

“Everybody wants to protect the bay,” Berlage said. “But it becomes an issue of proportionality.”

Commissioner Daniel Morris (RMechanicsville) said that he has received questions from residents in his own neighborhood about how much the county can expect to pay for state and federal water quality mandates.

He had few answers, he said, but believed that those mandates would cost not only county government through taxpayers but would affect homeowners directly by reducing their property values for lack of improvements they wanted to make.

“That [critical area] property is basically useless if you want to do anything on it,” Morris said.

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