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A Green Fund Too Far, Or Not Far Enough?
February 16, 2007
by Jack Lynch
There is a serious new effort underway to develop funding that recognizes the impact of development on the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. It attempts to correct the carrot of Smart Growth policy - funding infrastructure in priority growth areas, while not funding it outside them, by adding the stick - charging a two tier fee per square foot of impervious surfaces (pavement and ground covers) created. It is a proposal called the Green Fund that seeks to place this tax on new development.
A basic problem has been that 75% of new growth has occurred outside Maryland’s priority growth areas. Developers have funded road and infrastructure improvements at the minimally required levels in order to continue building outside the growth areas.
The new penalty for such growth would help offset the impacts of such sprawl development by funding agricultural improvements such as cover crop planting payments to reduce runoff, buffer strips of green between fields and manure holding areas. Other funds will go to storm water improvements, wetlands restoration and affordable housing in growth areas. Hopefully other conservation and restoration programs such as tree plantings along waterways and oyster restoration efforts can be funded as well.
The Green Fund applies a higher charge, $2 per square foot on proposed surfaces outside priority growth areas at the building permit stage in local government. Inside priority growth areas the fee falls to $ .25 per square foot, and all areas allow a discounted fee for incorporating lower impact designs.
The average mortgage cost increase would be $5 a month inside growth areas and $38 a month outside growth areas for a single family home on a quarter acre lot.
While conservatives may bemoan the new fees, they make a sensible argument for realigning the failure to account for the full costs of development upon natural areas and watersheds. It represents a step forward in valuing our natural resources. While builders may complain the costs are being passed on to homebuyers, they will be following their allegiance to an outmoded accounting for real environmental costs over the current allowance for the costs of a dirty Bay to be left out of the equation.
But there is a further issue that should gain consideration, why restrict the new fees to only new development and only on a one shot basis? If we recognize the Bay impacts of surfaces, then those impacts continue as long as the areas remain covered, we’re all living examples of the impacts and the costs on going to our waters.
Why not extend the fees to existing property as an annual tax? Accept the reality that a surface that’s existed for fifty years has the same runoff and pollution effects as a newly built surface. We should all bear the cost of paying for our impacts.
Further, let’s redesign building codes to allow integrated storm water retention (such as rain barrels) and home systems for gray water (used bath and sink outfalls) collection and lawn use? Slowing the runoff of water is the goal and having it slowly drained back into the ground aquifers is the ultimate solution.
State legislators will be playing the same old shell game, on the one hand claiming to protect us against the new fees, on the other crying deficit wolf, but it boils down to the fact that they’re just unhappy to see anyone get a hand in our wallets before they’ve had their take of it first.
Let’s tell them that we’re responsible citizens, and that given a logical rationale for paying our fair share of our costs to the Bay, we’ll do it. We don’t buy the chatter about it not being doable because we also have to refigure sale taxes and consider slot revenues to balance the future budgets.
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