Right now—today–The Maryland Department of the Environment (“MDE”) is choosing to ignore its responsibility to you and me to enforce the law, threatening both the public health and the environment of Talbot County. That is because Lakeside is a creature of State regulation even more than it is a creature of the County.
Most of the effort by citizens to pause Lakeside for a needed re-evaluation have been directed towards the Talbot County Council. Indeed, there is legislation on tomorrow night’s agenda (R308) to do just that. I know that every Council member recognizes that new information showing how they were misled by falsehoods eighteen months ago is fundamentally important, and we’re hoping that they do the right thing and pass that bill forthwith, rather than kicking the can down the road yet again.
But Council aside, MDE, who demonstrably seems always to have worked very closely with the developer Rocks Engineering, is purposefully ignoring its own independent duty to act.
MDE’S INACTION WITH LAKESIDE:
MDE well knows that almost ninety days ago the Talbot County Planning Commission determined that the scheme for wastewater treatment of the first Phase of homes at Lakeside is not consistent with the County’s Comprehensive Plan. Looking at new information just concerning the existing Trappe wastewater system, the terrible state of upper La Trappe Creek into which it discharges, and the plans to hook up 120 (or more) Lakeside properties—facts that were not revealed in 2020 when the Commission was first pitched—the Planning Commission basically said, No, this doesn’t adequately protect the public health or environment of Talbot County as our Comp Plan requires.
The developer completely ignored that decision and laid the pipe connecting Lakeside to the existing plant anyway. And no one is doing anything about it.
MDE well knows that under Maryland law, a Planning Commission, and only a Planning Commission, is empowered to decide if a project is consistent with the Comp Plan or not. It’s not up to the County Council or any municipality, and it’s not up to MDE. And MDE well knows that no amendment to a County’s Comprehensive Water and Sewer Plan is valid if it has not been approved by the Planning Commission as “consistent”—and so, Resolution 281 (which was the amendment that gave Lakeside the green light) was invalidated by the Planning Commission almost ninety-days ago.
But MDE has pointedly ignored that decision, taking no action to enforce Maryland’s regulations that are supposed to protect public health and the environment. MDE is not just an observer here: it plays a key role, as it is required to formally “approve” any amendment before that amendment is effective. It formally approved R281 back in 2020—but even though MDE has actual knowledge of the Planning Commission’s decision, it has taken no action whatever to acknowledge that reversal. What seems required is a simple acknowledgment of the Planning Commission’s action and the consequent revocation of the Department’s approval of R281. That’s it.
MDE’s inaction is purposeful. I’m betting MDE knew of the decision within hours, but surely with a few days. I wrote MDE on December 1st, and again on December 16th, delivering a copy of the Commission’s written determination (signed by its Chairman and Vice Chairman that had been given to the County Council) and asking MDE for action. On January 18th another letter detailed the history, cited Maryland law, and said this:
“With due respect, the citizens of Talbot County call on the Department to take immediate action as required by Section 9-511 of the Environmental Article to see that no further construction of sewer lines is permitted, and that the existing connection to the Trappe wastewater plant, which violates the Planning Commission’s finding, is promptly removed.”
The response to every communication has been the same: NONE, not even an acknowledgement of receipt.
The letters referred to above all went to MDE Secretary Ben Grumbles and to Lee Curry, Director of the MDE Division of Water and Science Administration (as well at Attorney General Frosh). These are the officials who, by inaction, are failing in their responsibility to the citizens of Talbot to do what the law requires to protect our public health and environment.
(MDE is involved with Lakeside in two other ways also, but the issues should not be conflated. MDE is evaluating the terms on which it may award Lakeside a discharge permit for a controversial new spray irrigation treatment plant it proposes to build at the headwaters of pristine Miles Creek, and MDE has been called to account for illegally issuing two construction permits for Lakeside back in 2006 that in 2020 became part of the story enabling the developer to get R281 adopted on false pretenses. But those open issues have nothing to do with the need to act immediately on our Planning Commission’s determination of inconsistency.)
SENATOR ECKHARDT AND DELEGATES MAUTZ AND ADAMS CAN HELP US:
I have not yet reached out to Delegate Adams whom I don’t know, but both Senator Eckhardt and Delegate Mautz are now quite aware of MDE’s failure to act on the Talbot Planning Commission’s recent decision. Both have been called upon to intercede, and Mr. Mautz just yesterday said he would reach out to MDE himself. Contact information is here if you would like to urge their support.
THE COUNTY COUNCIL:
By adopting Resolution 308 tomorrow evening, the Talbot County Council can also pause Lakeside for the complete reevaluation that is obviously needed. The point is that, in the face of the Commission’s determination of November 3rd, Lakeside cannot be built under the plan described in R281.
Falsehood and misrepresentation were the foundation for adoption of R281 as recently documented in full, but R281’s rescission is also required based just on this much narrower issue, and MDE should have acted already.
Dan Watson is the former chair of Bipartisan Coalition For New Council Leadership and has lived in Talbot County for the last twenty-five years.
January 18, 2021 Letter to Maryland Department of the Environment
December 1, 2021 letter to Maryland Department of the Environment
December 13 2021 Letter to Talbot County Council from Talbot County Planning Commission
December 16, 2021 Letter to Maryland Department of the Environment