This roundup was produced by Brian Feeney, public affairs specialist with Horne Engineering Services, which provides support to the U.S. Army’s Chesapeake Bay Program. It also contains information from the annual Legislative Update produced by the Chesapeake Bay Commission, which represents the legislatures of the three Bay states. The commission’s full legislative update is available on the internet at www.chesbay.state.va.us
The Maryland and Virginia 2002 general assembly sessions were dominated by budget issues, with both states trimming spending and avoiding expensive new environmental initiatives.
In Maryland, Program Open Space, GreenPrint and the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation received a 50 percent funding cut. Virginia’s budget cut funding for all agencies and programs 4–5 percent, including the budget that funds natural resource protection.
At the same time, both states passed legislation and resolutions aimed at finding funding sources for future land preservation and committing themselves to exercising foresight in conservation and water quality matters.
Land Conservation — The new Maryland Local Land Preservation Programs Act encourages local governments to adopt local land protection programs and pledges the state to identify funding sources to provide matching grants to local governments for property acquisitions. To qualify for matching grants, local governments have to provide the state with a conservation plan and establish a permanent funding mechanism of their own.
The Department of Natural Resources is directed to assist local governments in developing conservation plans and coordinating individual land acquisitions with federal and state agencies as well as nonprofit organizations to pool resources and leverage funding. The DNR and the Maryland Department of the Environment are directed to identify new funding sources for the state to establish a permanent funding mechanism and report back to the General Assembly before the 2003 session.
The Chesapeake Bay Critical Areas Act was restored to its original intent under legislation passed this session. Responding to recent court decisions that had seriously weakened the ability of the law to restrict development in the sensitive 100-foot strip closest to the water, the Assembly approved legislation reinforcing the criteria that must be met before a variance can be approved.
The Atlantic Coastal Bays Protection Act passed this year after failing in previous sessions. It adds the coastal bays to the areas subject to the 1986 Chesapeake Bay Critical Areas Protection Act. Local governments are required to designate all land within 1,000 feet of the Atlantic Ocean and its tributaries in one of three development intensity categories in a Critical Areas plan that conforms to the act. The county and municipal plans must then be approved by the Critical Area Commission. The plans must be updated every four years, and the state provides reimbursement for the expense of preparing them.
Water Quality — The Reclaimed Water Bill directs the MDE to encourage the use of partially treated sewer water on farms, golf courses, athletic fields and other extensive turf areas as a water conservation measure. The bill establishes setbacks from potable wells, streams and buildings.
The new Maryland Water Conservation Act requires the state’s largest public water systems to incorporate practices that improve water conservation and the efficiency with which water or wastewater is used, treated and stored when applying for new and expanded permits. The implementation of these practices will affect priority eligibility for state financial assistance for drinking water and wastewater treatment improvements. It is anticipated that greater efficiency in water use and conservation will reduce the financial costs associated with public water supply and wastewater treatment.
Another expected benefit is the reduced environmental impacts on aquatic life from surface and groundwater withdrawal.
Responding to the difficulties faced by many communities in financing necessary upgrades to their wastewater treatment infrastructure, legislation was passed to study the extent of inflow and infiltration problems for every wastewater treatment system in the state. The study, to be conducted in fiscal year 2004 by the MDE, will help to determine priorities for infrastructure improvements. Also, in fiscal year 2006, the department will finance a utility rate study that will assess whether each locality’s utility rates ensure that adequate funding is set aside for a local capital improvement program.
Habitat Protection — The General Assembly updated current law to improve the identification and enforcement of submerged aquatic vegetation protection zones. The DNR is directed to use buoys or other visible landmarks to delineate underwater grass beds where clam-harvesting equipment is prohibited. Adjustments to these protection zones, based on aerial surveys, are to be made every three years, instead of annually, so that an area affected by a severe water quality or storm event would not be prematurely removed from protection.
Two new bills affect oyster populations in the Bay. One establishes fines of up to $3,000 for poaching in marked oyster sanctuaries. The other requires the DNR to undertake a study to determine if nonnative Crassostrea ariakensis can be safely introduced to Maryland waters. The study will also address the current condition and ongoing viability of native oyster species.
A two-year pilot program designed to increase the number of permanently protected forested stream buffers in Maryland through the use of “forest retention banks” was created under legislation approved this session. The bill directs the Department of Agriculture to authorize landowners to use forested stream buffers established under contracts with the federal Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program as forest retention banks. Pilot programs are to be established in Carroll and Frederick counties. Forest conservation easements developed under the program may be used for mitigation purposes, and will be credited at a rate of 2.5 acres per each acre of mitigation required.
Land Conservation — The General Assembly passed the “Commonwealth of Virginia Parks and Natural Areas Bond Act of 2002.” If approved by voters this fall, it authorizes the issuance of $119 million of general obligation bonds for park and recreational facilities, $30 million of which is to be used for the acquisition of parks and natural areas. An additional $6.5 million may be used to acquire inholdings and adjacent properties at various state parks.
A bill was passed that allows the Virginia Public Building Authority to issue bonds for various state agency projects, including $20 million to the Department of Conservation and Recreation for parkland acquisition. It does not require voter approval.
A joint resolution directs the secretary of natural resources to explore the feasibility of establishing a $5 per ton tipping fee for solid waste disposal. Forty percent of the revenue raised would be used to buy land for open space conservation.
Also, a bill was approved giving local governments in Virginia the authority to create a service district to acquire real property to preserve land.
Legislation was approved to encourage the use of cluster development techniques by establishing “by right” cluster development ordinances. Under the bill, a locality may provide for the clustering of single-family dwellings to preserve open space on the remainder of a parcel. If a development proposal complies with the locality’s criteria, it will be permitted and not be subject to the special exception or use permit process.
The General Assembly passed two brownfields initiatives. One requires the Virginia Water Management Board to promulgate regulations that allow owners of contaminated property to undertake voluntary cleanups if a cleanup is not already required by the EPA. The Board is to establish site-specific, risk-based remediation standards that minimize cleanup delay and expense by taking into consideration the future use of the site. The law provides immunity from future state enforcement actions and amnesty for voluntarily disclosing the existence of a brownfield. Finally, it establishes a fund to provide grants to local governments and loans to corporations for brownfield cleanups.
The other bill requests the DCR to undertake a study on future uses of a U.S. Navy Superfund site on the South Branch of the Elizabeth River located in the colonial-era core of Portsmouth. The department is directed to work with the city, EPA, U.S. Navy and the Elizabeth River Project to explore open space options such as parklands and wildlife habitat.
Water Quality — The General Assembly passed a joint resolution acknowledging its “passive approach to water resource planning” and directing the State Water Commission to study Virginia’s role in water supply planning, including watershed management.
A bill was passed requiring the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality to establish a citizens water quality monitoring program and authorizing the agency to provide grants to support water quality monitoring organizations so long as the monitoring is done according to criteria established by the department.
It also passed a bill that amends the existing sewage sludge application regulations to require land applicators to obtain a National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permit. It directs the Water Quality Management Board to promulgate regulations requiring sludge applied to land to be treated or stabilized and applied in a manner that avoids discharge into state waters. It also enables local governments to require testing and monitoring of sludge to ensure the compliance with the regulations, including imposing fees to pay for its own testing and monitoring.
Another bill empowers state foresters to require owners of forested property to cease any tree harvesting actions likely to cause sediment runoff to state waters. Work can only resume after the owner has implemented satisfactory mitigation measures. Owners must also notify the state forester of tree harvesting activity within three days of beginning work. The state forester can impose a first-time fine of $250 for violations of the regulation and $1,000 for each further violation.
Habitat Protection – A joint resolution proclaims the General Assembly’s support for using sterile Crassostrea ariakensis in state waters for aquaculture, and considering the introduction of reproductive oysters in the future if research finds that the species will not pose a threat to native oysters. The joint resolution also renews its commitment to the Chesapeake 2000 agreement goal of a tenfold increase of native oysters, and encourages expanded federal and state cooperation with nonprofit organizations to reach the goal.
Tree Conservation — The General Assembly passed enabling legislation for local governments to adopt tree replacement ordinances for new subdivisions in areas with a population density of at least 75 people per square mile. The bill specifies that 20 years after planting, the tree canopy should cover 10 percent of the land area in sites zoned business, commercial or industrial and residential areas zoned for more than 20 units per acre. It requires a tree canopy cover of 20 percent for residential sites zoned 10 units or less per acre. It also offers real estate developers the option of tree canopy banking by planting the required number of trees at an off-site location at the direction of the local government. Developers can count the preservation of existing trees as a credit, and schools and playing fields are exempted.
Ballast Water — Virginia’s ballast water regulations were expanded to require ships entering Virginia waters to file a Ballast Water Control Form with the Hampton Roads Maritime Association within 72 hours of discharge or prior to departure from Virginia’s waters if it does not discharge. Ships are exempted if their previous port-of-call was in U.S waters and the ship already filed a ballast water control report. Forms are to be kept on file at the National Ballast Water Clearinghouse of the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center.
Unlike Maryland and Virginia, the Pennsylvania General Assembly meets in a two-year session. Here are highlights of recent, and pending, legislative activities in Pennsylvania, adapted from the Chesapeake Bay Commission’s Legislative Update.
Water Quality — The administration has proposed water resource legislation in response to a series of Public Water Forums sponsored by the Department of Environmental Protection. The legislation establishes a formal water resource program in the DEP and requires that the State Water Plan be updated to include information on water availability, water use and future demands on a watershed basis. The identification of Critical Water Planning Areas, where supplies are expected to exceed demand, and the development of Integrated Water Resource Plans for these areas are called for in the bill. The legislation is intended to establish a formal water conservation program for the state. Adoption of legislation is anticipated in 2002.
Agriculture — Legislation to create the Agricultural By-Product Management Technology Board in the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture was enacted into law. The Board will evaluate advanced technology regarding economically and environmentally feasible digesters and byproduct management technologies. It will also analyze the regional byproduct reduction needs and make recommendations to the secretary of agriculture. The Department is directed to develop programs to promote education and a related grant and loan program to encourage the use and development of digesters and byproduct management technologies.
Land Conservation — Legislation will soon be introduced by Commission Member Rep. Russell Fairchild calling for a state constitutional amendment under which the General Assembly would be authorized to establish a special tax provision allowing state and local tax credits for donations of land or easements for conservation purposes. The amendment is necessary because the Pennsylvania Constitution contains a “Uniformity Clause,” which requires that all taxes be uniform (i.e., without any special deductions, exemptions or credits), unless authorized constitutionally. The legislation would have to be adopted in two successive sessions of the General Assembly, then approved by the voters in a statewide referendum. Enabling legislation would then follow.
Last June, former Gov. Tom Ridge signed into law the “Conservation and Preservation Easements Act.” Pennsylvania no longer has to rely on common law to govern easements for land conservation, water quality and open space and farmland preservation.
In May 2001, the General Assembly passed legislation making a number of changes to Pennsylvania’s agricultural preservation program. The law rescinds the $10,000/acre cap on state funding for agricultural conservation easement purchases and facilitates the conservation of farms that straddle county lines. It also provides for reimbursements of land trusts up to $5,000 for expenses in the acquisition of agricultural conservation easements.