November 22, 2019
Forest Conservation ACT PASSED!
Thank You County Council Members for Protecting Our Local Forests!
Just over two months ago, the Federation jumped right into the thick of the fight for our County’s forests when your South Riverkeeper penned an op-ed that was a call to arms for all County residents that saw the link between declining forest cover and declining water quality. The Federation sought to rally forward-looking citizens to support the County’s Forest Conservation bill, O-68-19. On October 7, nearly 200 people turned out in front of the County Council chambers to show support for the measure, and went on to pack the council room, delivering nearly 5 hours of full-throated testimony and support.
After several subsequent hearings, meetings, phone calls, emails, public polling, and amendments, the bill was adopted unanimously on Monday night to much applause in the council chambers. While the bill as adopted, did not obtain the aggressive forest protections of the bill as introduced, it nonetheless elevates Anne Arundel County to the leader among Maryland counties for forest protection.
Developers Now Must Double Their Reforestation Efforts
The bill increases the thresholds for forests that must be conserved on any development site, and increases reforestation requirements and fees-in-lieu of replanting when those thresholds are not met. Anne Arundel County is now the only County in the State to increase the conservation thresholds above the State’s minimum requirements. The bill doubles the amount of reforestation required for development. The fee in lieu was more than tripled, from $0.40 to $1.25 per sq. ft. The legislation also improves protection for contiguous forests and interior forest habitat. While the adopted bill did not go as far as we hoped, all of these improvements make substantial progress toward protecting our rivers and streams, as well as our quality of life as County citizens.
Unanimous Support For Protecting Our Forests
It is especially gratifying to see that the bill passed unanimously. In this time of hyper-partisan politics at the national level, it is refreshing to see our local representatives working hard (and boy did we make them work hard) to reach a compromise solution that benefits all of us equally. Arundel Rivers commissioned a poll to concretely demonstrate the amount of voter support for Forest Conservation. Equally gratifying was the fact that the Council has come around to rejecting developers’ claims that any restriction on their ability to build more buildings will lead to economic collapse. A telling remark by Councilman Nathan Volke (R- District 3) toward the end of the discussion on Monday shows this realization:
“Mr. Iliff made, at certain points in his testimony, some arguments about opposition to a Senate bill from 1991, and I found that relatively persuasive. I thought it was interesting because it was the Maryland Builders Association talking about their opposition to the original Forest Conservation bill, and one of the things they noted in there is it was going to entirely shut down the development industry, and I would go so far as to say, obviously, that didn’t happen.”
There is still progress to make in protecting our waterways, but it is important at times like this to step back and reflect on what we are able to accomplish when we work together, and celebrate our victories when they come. With your continued support, the Arundel Rivers Federation will continue to deliver greater protections for our Rivers well into the future.
Jesse L. Iliff