Hancock Town Council says it can't afford watershed plan

July 11, 2012|By DON AINES |

The Hancock Town Council followed the example of some other Washington County governments, voting Wednesday night to send a letter to the county’s Watershed Implementation Plan Committee stating it cannot afford to spend $31 million to reduce water pollutants entering the Chesapeake Bay.

“These numbers were just so astonishingly ridiculous,” Mayor Daniel Murphy said of the costs of reducing nitrogen and phosphorous pollution in the bay’s watershed.

Earlier this week, Clear Spring’s town council took the same action, sending a letter to the committee acknowledging the problem, but stating it could not pay for $1.3 million in pollution-reducing measures.

The town could take some measures to help reduce pollution — swail repair, riparian buffers and planting trees — but the town does not have the money to implement any large plans to reduce nutrient pollution, Town Manager David Smith said.

Among municipalities, only Hagerstown ($210 million) and Boonsboro ($36 million) had larger estimates for reducing stormwater runoff into the watershed than Hancock. The cost for the county government to control runoff was estimated at more than $500 million.

The total cost to the county and local governments is estimated in excess of $1.1 billion over a 13-year period. That includes $230 million to reduce septic system discharges.

“This is a mandate that has been forced down everyone’s throat ... and no one can pay for it,” Smith said.

Real estate taxes in the county would have to triple to meet the annual bill for implementing the plan, Smith said.

The Environmental Protection Agency has set the target amounts by which the watershed’s states and Washington, D.C., must reduce nitrogen and phosphorous discharges. The EPA set the targets after the agency was sued more than a decade ago by environmental groups claiming it was not following the Clean Water Act in reducing those nutrients.

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