Septic stunt - O'Malley to wade in polluted Shore lake
Gov. Martin O'Malley's aides insist he hasn't given up on getting lawmakers to do something about the pollution and sprawl caused by a proliferation of homes built on septic systems. Now, O'Malley intends to highlight the issue by wading into an Eastern Shore lake rendered unswimmable by drainage from a town full of failing septics.
As my colleague Julie Bykowicz reports in the Maryland Politics blog, the governor plans to don waders Wednesday and walk into Lake Bonnie, pictured above, a private lake near Goldsboro in rural Caroline County. The aim, according to a media advisory from his office, is to show that "failure to manage the long-term and far-reaching consequences of septic systems can impact the public health and economic health of Maryland's rural communities."
It's a compelling image, wading in pollution - though I'm not sure how well Lake Bonnie illustrates the governor's campaign against sprawling housing developments on septic systems. In this case, the problem comes from a town, albeit one where residents should never have been allowed to put in septic systems because of the high water table. I wrote about it in The Sun last year.
The 28-acre manmade lake was the centerpiece of a private campground just south of Goldsboro. In 1996, local health officials declared the lake unfit for swimming because of high bacteria levels linked to the many failing septic systems in the town.
Though local officials have known of Goldsboro's septic problems since the 1970s, neither they nor the state have been able or willing to come up with the millions of dollars needed to hook the residents up to a wastewater treatment plant. A plan for piping the waste to nearby Greensboro now looks like it may resolve the problem. Meanwhile, though, the family that ran the campground has struggled for a decade without their prime attraction and finally shuttered the business five years ago.
O'Malley's also apparently attempting to overcome farmers' objections to his proposed curb on rural development relying on septic. According to an Associated Press report, his staff has drawn up amendments that would loosen restrictions in the bill on subdividing rural land, giving farmers the option to carve up their land four times, rather than just once under the original legislation. The extra lots could only go to family members, not developers. And another provision would let farmers divide their land for related businesses, such as a winery or dairy operation.
It's not clear if the governor really thinks all this will somehow revive his septic bill's dimming prospects. Del. Maggie McIntosh, the Baltimore Democrat who's head of the House Environmental Matters Committee, has said she's in favor of curbing sprawling development on septics but worries it could have a disproportionate impact on rural parts of the state. She's indicated she wants to defer the issue for more study, but her committee's still planning a hearing on the HB1107, the septic curb legislation, on Friday, and the governor's spokesman has said he intends to be there to press his case.
(Lake Bonnie, 2010. Baltimore Sun photo by Jed Kirschbaum)