While the Emergency Natural Wood Waste Recycling Facility (NWWRF) provision of CB60 has the laudable intended purpose of exempting farmers from regulation in the event of a catastrophe, it actually will do the opposite. Rather than achieve real results for the people of Howard County by just granting a short-term exemption from County regulation, the Kittleman Administration instead responded to the politics of mulching with a proposal for a complicated and time-consuming regulatory approval process. While people in other zoning districts will actually be cutting and removing trees, the farmers in RC and RR districts will be completing paperwork to seek approval from multiple regulatory bodies.

At the outset, it must be noted that the internally inconsistent language of CB60 makes it technically impossible to implement the emergency provision. The Task Force Report to Study Mulching, Composting, and Wood Processing in footnote 2 recognized that “A natural wood waste recycling facility is exempt from State regulation if it is operated by a nonprofit or governmental organization or is a single individual or business that provides recycling services for its own employees or for its own recyclable materials generated on its own premise,” yet the drafters of CB60 failed to recognize these State exemptions.

CB60 defines a NWWRF to be “a facility where recycling services for natural wood waste is provided and which operates under a permit from the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) under COMAR.” Furthermore, the emergency provision will allow “a property owner to dispose of excess natural wood waste from their property.”  Yet, as acknowledged in footnote 2, an MDE permit is not required for wood waste generated on its own premises.  Thus, because an MDE permit is not required and cannot be obtained in this situation, the emergency NWWRF provision will be impossible to implement  because of the very definition for ”NWWRF” found in CB60.

Nevertheless, assuming that a state NWWRF permit could be obtained under CB60, the Kittleman Administration, the Department of Planning and Zoning (DPZ) and bill sponsors Councilpersons Sigaty and Fox mistakenly believe that the emergency NWWRF provision is necessary to allow a farmer in RC and RR zoning districts to rent a grinder to remove the trees and give away the excess wood chips. A representative of MDE has stated that grinding trees is not considered “mulching.” Chipping is just “volume reduction.”

If the emergency provision were to apply, a farmer after “a natural catastrophe such as a major storm, weather condition, or disease” (but interestingly not including fire or insects) rather than hiring a tree service or renting equipment to remove the trees in this “emergency” instead  will need to set out to comply with CB60. The first step in this process  is to submit a description of the circumstances for the use permit and  “photographs documenting the scope of the damage.” Second is the MDE NWWRF permit application. The Notice of Intent for a general permit requires proof of workers’ compensation coverage and an emergency preparedness plan. Alternatively, the individual permit includes more than 2 dozen elements including site plans, drawings,  a description of site security and access control, and an erosion and sediment control plan that has been approved by the local soil conservation district.  Third, is a NWWRF operations plans. Fourth, is an “emergency preparedness plan, as required by MDE, for review by the fire marshal. Fifth, is “an approved Howard Soil Conservation District (HSCD) supplementary project evaluation that addresses key natural resource issues.”  To compile the required documents might require the farmer to hire engineers, surveyors, consultants, and attorneys.

CB60 is unclear on whether an approved MDE permit is required, but if so it takes MDE 30 days to process a general permit and 9 months for an individual permit. In addition, the HCSD believes that it will take 7 to 10 days to approve the project evaluation.  In a misguided attempt to assist farmers in the event of a catastrophe, CB60 instead ironically creates a time-consuming approval process and expensive regulatory burden.  Paradoxically, while farmers in RC and RR zoning districts seek to complete paperwork to respond to the tree “emergency,” property owners in all other zoning districts of the County, including in particular, the 3600 acres of New Town zoning open space managed by the Columbia Association, will have hired a tree service or removed the trees themselves without any specific regulation by Howard County.

The emergency NWWRF provision of CB60 is either legally impossible to implement or is totally impractical to meet its intent of responding to an “emergency.”  The provision should been stricken from the bill. Instead, the County should be addressing the nonprofit exemption loophole of the State law cited in footnote 2.