The Virginia General Assembly approved landmark legislation that launches a regulatory wetland protection program within the state. But outside that, the 2000 General Assembly sessions did not see passage of major environmental initiatives. In Maryland, a proposal from Gov. Parris Glendening to require more efficient septic systems in sensitive areas failed to win approval.
Here are some of the Maryland and Virginia legislative highlights (The Pennsylvania assembly meets year-round.) drawn from a summary produced by the Chesapeake Bay Commission, an advisory panel that represents the General Assemblies of all three states.
Dredging: The placement of dredged material at “Site 104” north of the Bay Bridge remained a contentious issue during the 2000 session. The State of Maryland and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers propose to use the four-mile long, 100 feet deep, area north of the Bay Bridge off Kent Island as a disposal site for dredged material from the shipping channels leading to Baltimore Harbor.
As in previous years, numerous bills were introduced, but none of the bills progressed out of Senate committee for floor consideration. The Corps is expected to release its revised draft Environment Impact Statement during the summer of 2000. A final decision is expected in April 2001.
Habitat Protection: The Chesapeake Bay Commission’s Maryland Delegation led an effort to pass legislation directing the Department of Natural Resources to study the possible impacts of personal watercraft, including Jet Skis, on underwater grass beds in the Chesapeake and coastal bays. The DNR is to report its findings by Jan. 1, 2003.
Like many coastal states, Maryland has experienced a three– or fourfold increase in the number of registered and documented vessels using the Bay and other waters. A Florida study documented propeller scarring, excessive turbidity and channel widening effects from increased pleasure craft usage.
Land Use Management & Water Quality:
Septic systems: The governor’s top environmental initiative would have required nitrogen-removing septic systems in certain areas, but it failed to get out of committee in either chamber. Estimates for installing these systems ranged from $3,000– $7,000 in extra cost per system. Opponents, led by homebuilders and Realtor groups, successfully argued that the additional costs were prohibitive for prospective homeowners.
Smart Codes: The Administration’s 3-year-old “Smart Growth” campaign continued with a “Smart Codes” bill to make it easier to renovate older buildings and develop homes and businesses in established neighborhoods. Supported by developers, municipal officials and by many in the environmental community, the new code would be adopted by local governments and result in a uniform set of rehabilitation building rules statewide. The bill requires the state to develop the Maryland Building Rehabilitation Code and creates an advisory council to monitor the code’s progress and effectiveness.
Ballast Water & Invasive Species: The General Assembly approved a bill that requires all ships carrying ballast water destined for Maryland ports to provide real-time reports to the Department of the Environment. The mandatory Maryland ballast reporting forms are modeled after those adopted by the U.S. Coast Guard, and all completed forms would be shared with a central repository established under federal law, the National Ballast Water Information Center of the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center.
The bill also requests that Maryland’s governor work with Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania and appropriate federal partners to develop ballast water protection measures for the Chesapeake Bay. Nonnative species, such as the zebra mussel, can have dramatic economic and environmental effects on marine, estuarine and freshwater ecosystems worldwide. Ballast water discharge from ships is a major source of these aquatic invasions. The Bay is the largest recipient of foreign ballast water on the East Coast.
Agriculture: The assembly expanded 1998 legislation that established a pilot transportation project for poultry litter to include all livestock manure. The project was designed to reduce water pollution by transferring nutrient-rich litter from poultry farms with high soil phosphorus levels to agricultural areas or other uses that have the capacity to use additional phosphorus.
The new legislation expands the pilot program to include manure from dairy and other livestock operations with similarly high soil phosphorus levels. It also establishes cost-share matching rates for all livestock manures.
The bill repeals a requirement that persons accepting state funds for a nutrient management plan development must implement the plan immediately. People will now follow the sliding nutrient management implementation time line established in the 1998 legislation.
In addition, the bill expands the 1998 statute requiring commercial fertilizer applicators, including lawn services for residential customers, to follow University of Maryland nutrient application recommendations if they service a total of 10 or more non-agricultural acres annually.
Water Quality: Prompted by a controversy surrounding the inadequate reporting of PCBs in the Roanoke River by state agencies, the General Assembly strengthened the requirements for the State Water Control Board, the Department of Environmental Quality and the Virginia Department of Health to monitor and report on the presence of toxic substances in state waters.
The bill requires additional monitoring and reporting on water bodies to be included in an annual report. In addition, citizens will be able to petition the SWCB to include a particular water of body in the DEQ’s monitoring plan. The Health Department and the DEQ are also required to ensure a timely exchange and evaluation of water quality and fish advisory information.
The Health Department is required to develop a written policy to identify the criteria for determining when a fish consumption advisory will be issued because of chemical contamination. The DEQ must develop a written policy describing the circumstances that will prompt the agency to conduct an assessment of potential sources of toxic contamination.
The DEQ was also directed, contingent on adequate funding, to increase the number of water quality monitoring stations and the frequency of sampling by 5 percent a year until the monitoring program is representative of all river and stream miles in the state.
Open Space / Land Conservation/Land Management:
Open space funding: The assembly approved more than $12 million for the Land Conservation Foundation, a state fund established to preserve open space and recreational lands. The assembly also passed a bill allowing the foundation to provide direct (as opposed to matching) grants to state agencies. The foundation may now transfer lands to other entities that will hold them for conservation purposes.
Also, the Open Space Land Preservation Trust Fund, which is administered by the Virginia Outdoors Foundation, was modified to allow grants to aid localities in acquiring open space easements. Currently, grants may only be made to persons conveying conservation easements to the Virginia Outdoors Foundation and a local co-holder.
Forest and Farm Protection: The assembly revised the “Important Farmlands” law which requires state agencies to evaluate the impacts of their actions on farm and forest lands. The bill replaced a previous definition of “important farmlands” with a set of criteria that determine farm and forest lands worthy of protection. The bill also requires that an annual report on efforts to protect farm and forest land be submitted by the Secretary of Commerce and Trade to the relevant committees of the General Assembly.
Stream buffer credit: A tax credit was established for owners of forest land who forgo harvest along streams and rivers (riparian buffers). The amount of the credit is equal to 25 percent of the value of the timber retained in the riparian buffer.
Wetlands: Spurred by the actual and potential loss of nontidal wetlands as the result of the so-called “Tulloch” federal court ruling, which limited the jurisdiction of the Army Corps of Engineers over the ditching of nontidal wetlands, the General Assembly established a State Nontidal Wetlands Management Program which will begin Oct. 1, 2001. Meanwhile, a program aimed at closing the Tulloch loophole will begin July 1, 2000. [See “Virginia begins to regulate nontidal wetlands,” April 2000 Bay Journal]
Marine habitat: The Marine Habitat and Waterways Improvement Fund was established to support activities that would improve marine habitat and waterways, including the removal of obstructions or hazards from state waters. The fund will consist of fees, rents and royalties paid for the use of state-owned bottomlands. It will also include penalties and civil charges for violations of permits or regulations related to state-owned bottomlands.
Currently, fees, rents and royalties are paid into the Public Oyster Rocks Replenishment Fund and the penalties and civil charges into local treasuries to be used to restore damage to bottomlands.
The bill also allows ship construction and repair facilities to pay a permit fee of $5,000 in lieu of future royalties. Funds currently in the Public Oyster Rocks Replenishment Fund and other sources of funding are not affected by the bill. This bill becomes effective on July 1, 2001.
Grass Beds: The Virginia Delegation to the Chesapeake Bay Commission was directed to continue its study on issues related to the protection and restoration of Bay grasses. The members will examine issues related to the use of state bottom, particularly for aquaculture, and will seek ways to forestall conflicts among uses of shallow water while reaching grass restoration goals.
For information about the Chesapeake Bay Commission, visit its web site: www.chesbay.state.va.us