7:35 AM EST, February 12, 2013
Farmers and others upset over state-imposed restrictions on septic-based rural development staged a "tractorcade" Tuesday past the State House in Annapolis.
The protest comes on the day the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee is scheduled to hear a bill, SB391, which would repeal the Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act of 2012.
The law, introduced by Gov. Martin O'Malley and passed last year over rural lawmakers' objections, restricts large-scale housing development that would rely on septic systems. O'Malley and other supporters say septic limits are needed to curb sprawl development, preserve farmland and reduce nitrogen pollution into the Chesapeake Bay. Officials say a household on septic generates far more pollution than does one on a state-of-the-art sewer system.
But farmers complain the law devalues their land and threatens their livelihood, as they borrow funds to farm based on the development value of the property. Some have said the law is pushing them to sell their land to developers now, rather than continue farming, in order to take advantage of a "grandfathering" provision in the legislation, which passed last year as SB236.
Led by a man walking a wheelbarrow full of straw, a line of tractors and other farm equipment crawled down Rowe Boulevard, around Church Circle and past the State House. Many bore signs criticizing the law. "Septic Bill 236 belongs in a manure spreader," read one. "Save Our Farms," read another.
UPDATE: The Chesapeake Bay Foundation issued a statement supporting the septic development restrictions, which reads in part:
“Putting in place protections that encourage growth in areas that will generate less pollution makes common sense and will improve the quality of life for our children and future generations. Those protections are not a “taking,” as some suggest; instead it enhances the value of agricultural lands and will help protect the fabric of rural Maryland.
The protestors set out from Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium and had planned to reach the State House as House and Senate convened. But their start was delayed; the House had recessed by the time the protestors arrived.
The repeal bill being heard Tuesday is sponsored by Sen. E.J. Pipkin, a Republican representing the upper Eastern Shore. Cosponsors are Sens. David R. Brinkley, a Frederick County Republican, and Richard F. Colburn, a Republican who represents the middle Shore. A similar measure in the House, HB106, with 25 Republican cosponsors, received a hearing last week.