Tractorcade hits capital in support of SB 391
By MICHEL ELBEN
ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Maryland farmers organized a tractorcade on Feb. 12 in support of Senate Bill 391, which if passed, would repeal the Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act of 2012, the so-called “septic bill.”
The law restricts large-scale housing development that would rely on septic systems.
“This is a real law with real impact that affects real people,” said Sen. E.J. Pipkin, R-Dist. 36, who co-sponsored the bill.
During the Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs committee hearing on the bill later that afternoon, Pipkin said land use decisions are best made at a local level.
“People in Annapolis don’t realize how oppressive this law really is,” he said.
The committee members inquired why some counties complied with the law and others did not.
At press time, 12 counties remained non-compliant of the law. Pipkin said, “The counties were coerced. That’s why it needs to be repealed.”
“Two coalitions have formed,” said Carroll County Commissioner Richard Rothschild. “We should be working together.
“This is a signal that something is drastically wrong.”
Those who oppose the bill say the Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act of 2012 was a long and thoughtful process.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation recommends an unfavorable report from the Senate committee.
According to a CBF press release, “The intent of SB 391 stands in complete opposition to the thoroughly comprehensive and inclusive public processes that informed the General Assembly’s action less than one year ago.”
But in that year, stakeholders have seen changes.
“Land values have decreased,” said Carroll County Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier.
Frazier said the county had 31 potential applicants for ag preservation and after the law passed the applicants have not completed their applications.
Howard County farmers said their land values had also decreased as a result of the tiering system.
Eastern Shore Land Conservancy does not support SB 391.
“When a sub-division is put up on prime farmland, agriculture — Maryland’s No. 1 industry — takes a step back and the Bay suffers,” said Eastern Shore Land Conservancy executive director Robert Etgen, “The Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation law isn’t the only tool needed, but it is an important step in protecting the loss of precious farmland and to preventing further pollution of the Bay.”
But Maryland real estate appraiser David Cadell, who works with farmers on the Eastern Shore, spoke in favor of the bill.
“One thing with farm families is that the equity is held in their land,” Cadell explained to the committee. “These life savings are subordinate to mortgages.”
“This idea that we have a right to do whatever we want with our land does not consider our neighbors or our future generations,” said Maryland’s CBF executive director Alison Prost.