MARYLAND

Annapolis tractor protest: Farmers protest septic laws

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ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) - Farmers rode their tractors on the streets of the state capital on Tuesday to draw attention to a measure that would repeal a law designed to fight pollution by limiting the growth of septic systems in Maryland.

Tractors driving in Annapolis. (Photo: WJLA)

Joe Kuhn, of Woodbine, gave interviews to reporters while riding on his tractor near the Maryland State House. Farmers who oppose the law say it devalues their land by reducing development potential.

"You take property rights away, take value away from farmers. We need it for our property rights," Kuhn said of the repeal bill as he rode by the governor's residence.

Annapolis residents stopped to observe and photograph the unusual rally, which was small but noticeable as tractors rolled around Church Circle.

Tom Zolper, a spokesman for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said the law was approved to reduce pollution and limit taxpayer expense of sprawl.

"This is regressive," Zolper said of the repeal proposal. "To repeal it is to go backwards."

The law passed last year by the General Assembly created a four-tiered system limiting where residential subdivisions on septic systems can be built. The measure to repeal the law is being sponsored by Sen. E.J. Pipkin, R-Cecil. A similar measure is being sponsored by Delegate Mike McDermott, R-Worcester.

Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley in his State of the State speech two years ago proposed limiting septic system development, catching lawmakers off guard. The bill failed to pass that year with opposition from rural Democrats. Instead, O'Malley called for a study. Last year, a scaled-back version of the measure passed. In the end, the law took away the ability of the state to overturn county development plans.

A report released earlier this month by the Maryland Department of Planning found that land development maps adopted by Frederick and Cecil counties have "largely ignored" the law by failing to designate much land that would not allow major residential subdivisions relying on septic systems.

"While many counties are implementing the letter and the spirit of last year's legislation, some are trying to roll back that progress," said Alison Prost, executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

The report found that eight jurisdictions appear to substantially comply. They are Baltimore city as well as Montgomery, Prince George's, Baltimore, Harford, Kent, Talbot and Garrett counties.

About a dozen other counties have not yet adopted plans.

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