One day, years from now, Anne Arundel County residents will be able to swim in the rivers of the Chesapeake Bay after rainfall, and not be in violation of a health warning.
That's the hope from a new bill approved this week by the Anne Arundel County Council that asks taxpayers to pay a little more each year to fund stream restoration.
The anecdotal "don't swim after rain" story was brought up time after time at the Anne Arundel County Council meetings since the stormwater bill was introduced in February. It was a touchstone for many to explain the fundamental problem the county's waterways are faced with—they're polluted.
But with the passage of the bill on Monday, councilmen are hoping for a fresh start to keep streams and waterways clean.
The bill sets into motion a fee that will be assessed through property tax bills. The rate varies per household type—$34 for owners of townhomes and condominiums, $85 for single-family homeowners, and $170 for rural area homes.
At the end of the fiscal year, a total of about $26 million will be collected into a special fund, which is protected by state laws to be used only for specific environmental restoration purposes.
The bill's sponsor, Councilman Chris Trumbauer (D-6th District), said the county's Department of Public Works has hundreds of problem streams across the county on file, but have been unable to approach a solution until now.
"We know where the problems are and how to fix them, we just can't do them. That's what this legislation is designed to do," Trumbauer said.
More than a year's worth of thought went into the formation of the bill before its passage, Trumbauer said. But the real work is only getting started. Cutting back on stormwater pollution in Anne Arundel County is just one local effort in a massive statewide mandate to help clean the Chesapeake Bay by 2025.
Baltimore passed its own version of a stormwater fee earlier this week as well.
Despite the importance of the bill, Anne Arundel lawmakers narrowly approved it by a 4-3 vote.
"I think the majority realized that this might not be pleasant, but this legislation is the way to move forward," Trumbauer said. "Is it the exact bill I would want? No, but it's the bill the council felt comfortable with, and it's an important step forward to get a hold of the pollution going into our waterways."
Throughout the half-dozen public hearings on the bill, supporters and detractors of the bill were equally boisterous. Some said they did not trust the government to utilize the funds properly, and others said it asked too much of the people and of businesses in a time of economic recovery.
Supporters, like Eric Michelson, said the time to delay had long since passed.
"We can't continue to deny, deflect and delay this effort. We've really done that for way too long, and now it's time to get to work," he said.
To get the bill to the point of passage, more than 50 amendments were made to it across the past two months. Along the way, each council member argued over issues specific to their territory. Some focused on how nonprofits and churches would be affected by the fee, others sought to define how mobile homes fit into the bill.
At the end of the day, so much had been changed that the Department of Public Works cast doubt that the original goal could be met on time.
Chris Phipps, deputy director of the Department of Public Works, said they would have to "find creative solutions" to move forward. More than $6 million was shaved off of the estimated $26.5 million annual cost of the project, in an effort to appease all council members qualms with the bill.
Councilman Dick Ladd (R-5th District) said the the reductions may make it difficult to reach the 2025 goal. However, with such a far-off goal, newer solutions may present themselves as the county begins to get knee-deep into the problem, he said.
"We know that once we get into this thing, there are going to be some substantial lessons to be learned. Some good, some bad. We'll have to adjust," Ladd said.