Bethesda environmentalists hail Elrich's runoff bill
Proposal would increase fines, enforcement for sediment, erosion
Bethesda environmentalists are heralding a proposal by a Montgomery County Council member to increase fines for sediment runoff violations, saying it is a major step toward cleaning up local waterways.
The bill, proposed Tuesday by Marc Elrich (D-At large) of Takoma Park, would bring the penalties levied against developers for violating county rules on stormwater runoff and construction site erosion to the highest allowed by law, a move advocates say is the only way to abate problems caused by harsh chemicals and soils entering nearby streams.
"I see violations every day where I live and it shows that the current penalties just aren't working to make a change in behavior," said Steve Dryden, a Bethesda resident and co-chairman of the Montgomery County Stormwater Partners Network Coalition a group of local environmentalists advocating for the increase.
The bill would increase the fine for violations of the county sediment control law from $500 for an initial offense and $750 for subsequent offenses to $1,000 for any offense, the largest fine allowed under Maryland's policy for enforcing such controls.
Elrich did not return calls seeking comment Wednesday.
Sediment runoff dirt and other materials propelled by rain from construction sites can be especially harmful when it makes its way into local streams, said Diane Cameron, a Stormwater Partners co-chair and conservation director for the Audubon Naturalist Society, a Washington D.C. environmental group.
"Loose soil and pollutants can kill the life in a stream and accumulate in wetlands," she said. "This has a serious affect on our waterways."
Clay soil often unearthed during construction can float into the Chesapeake Bay watershed, stifling the growth of fish and sea grasses, Cameron said.
Stormwater Partners, which requested the legislation, also is calling for increased enforcement by the county, an effort inspectors with the Department of Permitting say they are already undertaking.
"We're out there, we have one of the largest sediment control staff in the state and we're actively reporting violations every day," said Michael Reahl, a manager with the county's sediment and storm water management inspection section.
Reahl said his inspectors review every active construction site in the county once every two weeks.
Despite having to eliminate four of its 15 inspectors this year because of budget cutbacks, Reahl said his department issued 252 citations for sediment control violations and issued 66 stop work orders, which shut down a site, between June 2009 and June 2010. This is compared to 271 citations and 55 stop work orders in 2009. In 2002, when the department was fully-staffed, 200 citations were issued.
Maryland's Department of the Environmental, which delegates sediment control to the county, commended Reahl and his staff earlier this year during a biannual inspection.