MD Critical Area Commission Announces New Buffer Requirements

posted in: Chesapeake Bay News | 0

Maryland’s Critical Area Commission is announcing new requirements to establish comprehensive procedures and standards for the treatment of the Critical Area Buffer ? measures that will improve water quality and protect wildlife habitat.  Nearly a year in the making, the new regulations will address the cumulative impacts of shoreline development by requiring protection, restoration and enhancement of the buffer when construction, clearing or other related activities are proposed on waterfront property.

“These regulations will fill a significant gap in our Critical Area Program’s effectiveness as we work to reduce the sediment and polluted runoff that are killing our Bays and their tributaries,” said Governor Martin O’Malley.   “State and local governments will now be able to provide clear, specific direction to waterfront property owners to ensure the buffer is consistently, effectively protected.”

The Critical Area buffer is comprised of the first 100 feet of land adjacent to tidal waters, tidal wetlands and tributary streams.  While the law has always required expansion of the buffer beyond 100 feet when located adjacent to environmentally sensitive land, these new regulations specify how to protect water quality when the buffer borders steep slopes, highly erodible soils or hydric soils ? those that are frequently wet or flooded.

“The buffer is a State resource essential to restoring and protecting our water quality and our aquatic, wetland and shoreline habitats,” said Critical Area Commission Chair Margaret McHale. “This comprehensive approach is long overdue in the protection of the natural resources we all hold dear.”

The new regulations address all aspects of buffer implementation, including measuring the buffer, maintaining existing vegetation, establishing natural vegetation, and protecting the Buffer from disturbance associated with human activity. They include provisions for enhanced enforcement in the face of violations, such as clearing or removal of natural vegetation without an approved Buffer Management Plan. The regulations also address specific mitigation measures for activities that may be authorized within the buffer, such as pier access and shore erosion control. Finally, the regulations provide for consistent application of these standards throughout the 64 jurisdictions in the State with a local Critical Area program.

“This is the first time in the 25-year history of the Critical Area program that objective standards will be applied to the protection of this sensitive landscape,” said Maryland Department of Natural Resources Secretary John Griffin.

A public hearing on the draft regulations was held on December 10, 2009, and the Commission voted unanimously on February 3, 2010 to publish the regulations for final adoption.  The final regulations will appear in the Maryland Register on February 26, 2010. As of March 8, 2010, they will apply in all Maryland counties and municipalities with local Critical Area programs.

Maryland’s Critical Area Commission for the Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays was created by the Critical Area Act in 1984. Charged with adopting regulations and criteria necessary to effectively implement the Act, the Commission also is responsible for review and approval of State projects in the Critical Area; local government projects involving significant land disturbance or habitat impacts; and all amendments to local Critical Area Programs, including changes to ordinances, regulations, and maps.

source: DNR press release

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