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Hearing set for proposed stormwater management ordinance

New rules will increase costs for developers but should improve water quality

April 29, 2010|By HEATHER KEELS

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- Washington County officials will hold a public hearing Tuesday before voting on a proposed stormwater management, grading, soil erosion and sediment control ordinance that incorporates new state-mandated regulations.

The new requirements will increase costs for developers and home builders, but they are designed to improve flood control and promote water quality through downstream erosion control, officials have said.

The regulatory overhaul was set in motion by Maryland's Stormwater Management Act of 2007, which requires the use of a stormwater management approach known as "environmental site design." This approach emphasizes conserving natural drainage features rather than building new ones, minimizing pavement and other impervious surfaces, and slowing down runoff to allow for more infiltration and evapotranspiration by plants, according to a Maryland Department of the Environment fact sheet.

Local governments have been directed to update their ordinances to require the use of environmental site design "to the maximum extent practicable."

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"The county is actually acting as an agent for the state when it comes to enforcing these programs for stormwater management, so compliance with the regulations is not really a choice; it's a requirement," county public works director Joseph Kroboth III told the Washington County Commissioners during a Nov. 17 workshop on the proposed ordinance.

The proposed ordinance would combine and replace the county's current stormwater management and sediment control ordinances. The sediment control ordinance has not been updated since 1985, Kroboth said.

A draft of the new county ordinance was first released publicly Nov. 4 and was distributed to area builders, engineers and land surveyors, Kroboth said. Public works and soil conservation officials have held meetings to discuss the ordinance with interested parties and made several revisions based on their feedback and feedback from the MDE, he said.

One concern was that developers who had invested in design under the current regulations would have to redesign and could lose financing if the new design allowed for fewer units than the original, Kroboth said.

To address that issue, the ordinance allows the county to grant waivers "grandfathering" projects with plans submitted before May 4, as long as the plans address certain criteria, Kroboth said.

Other builders have protested the cost of complying with the new regulations. At Tuesday's commissioners meeting, Dan Heinrich of Southridge Log Homes Inc. of Smithsburg, estimated that complying with the new requirements would cost him $5,000 to $8,000 more per permit.

Heinrich, a self-described environmentalist, said the regulations lacked common sense and the MDE's energy would be better spent introducing incentives for solar panels and other green building features.

Washington County Soil Conservation District Manager Elmer Weibley said he supported the changes because current regulations are not always preventing flooding and erosion problems downstream from developments, even when developers are in full compliance.

"It may be a great development, but if you're downstream and your fields are washing out, and the only answer you can get is, 'We all did our best,' it's not a very good answer for citizens in that situation," Weibley said at the Nov. 17 meeting. "I really think this ordinance puts the tools in place to address that."

If you go ...



What: Public hearing on proposed stormwater management, grading, soil erosion and sediment control ordinance

When: Tuesday, 9 a.m.

Where: County Administration Building, 100 W. Washington St. in Hagerstown, second floor, commissioners' meeting room

On the Web



To read the proposed ordinance, visit http://www.washco-md.net and click the appropriate link under "latest county news."

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