Shedding Light on Lothian
By: Patrick DeArmey
Everyone deserves to live in a healthy and clean environment. This principle guides CLA’s work in numerous areas, including that in Lothian and Harwood, Maryland, and more specifically, our work with the community that lives on and around Sands Road. This rural community in south Anne Arundel County is inundated with industrial and municipal pollution sources. By CLA’s accounting, there are at least ten water pollution sources in the Sands Road area. This includes five mobile home park wastewater treatment plants, two closed solid waste landfills, and at least three sand and gravel mining operations. CLA first became involved when community members of Lothian and the Patuxent Riverkeeper reached out for assistance dealing with issues of excessive truck traffic, noise, and related concerns in their community. When researching these issues, CLA staff attorneys discovered a cluster of operations in noncompliance with their state water pollution permits, which was directly linked to the truck traffic and noise plaguing the community. By CLA’s clients’ accounts, this has been a near-constant problem for over 30 years.
To address these issues, CLA implemented a cumulative wholesale strategy to investigate both the local zoning and land use controls, as well as the state pollution permits in place that would allow such a degradation of the quality of life of the community and environment. In this investigation, we collaborated with the Patuxent Riverkeeper, and community members on the ground to investigate and implement a plan to increase the quality of life of the community. This included addressing permit non-compliance and a lack of zoning protections for the community, as well as the enforcement of zoning codes. Through our investigation, we discovered a cluster of water pollution permit noncompliance generally only seen in Maryland’s urban and industrial areas. And although we informed the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) in June of 2020 and asked for a follow-up response and action, we never received a formal response. We also notified the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of the significant non-compliance at the wastewater treatment plants for four mobile home parks in Lothian and Harwood, all with the same corporate parent company. This resulted in the EPA taking the first steps towards enforcement by requesting specific information from the polluters; however, to date, and to the best of our knowledge, no further action has been taken. We brought these issues to the respective enforcement agencies with support from CLA’s research and summaries of noncompliance. We have continued to monitor and track the compliance of these operations as we plan our next steps. On the zoning side, we reviewed numerous special exceptions for various industrial operations in this rural community. We also have met with county officials and leadership on numerous occasions to inform them of the industry’s impact on the community and the environment.
Progress has been incremental over the past two years. We have reviewed and commented on water pollution permit renewals, resulting in new permits with updates to the language to make them more protective of the community and the environment. We have provided state and federal regulators with information, research, and other support to commence enforcement against polluters in the community. On the zoning side, we have brought to light significant issues associated with county zoning practices and decisions. These are related to special exceptions and conditional variances and their negative impacts on the community. Our advocacy and constant pressure on the Anne Arundel County Government resulted in the County taking enforcement actions against bad actors on Sands Road for noncompliance with the special exception permits that allow these industrial sites to operate within the rural community. Additionally, with CLA staff assistance, a CLA pro bono attorney has commenced an action before the Anne Arundel County [Zoning Hearing Examiner] challenging the validity of a special exception granted in 1967 that has never been reviewed or updated by the County since. This special exception no longer meets the basic requirements of a special exception that would be granted in 2022 and is not protective of the rural community or the environment.
This work is important because it brings to light decades-old zoning decisions and practices that are no longer protective of the community and the environment, and because it puts polluters and regulators on notice that the communities around Sands Road will no longer be a sacrifice zone where industry, that is unwanted in other parts of the county or state, can operate with limited oversight and in noncompliance for years. It is important because no one deserves to live like this, inundated with noncompliant pollution sources, where special exceptions last forever, and county and state regulators neglect their duties to protect the community and the environment
We need $300 to continue our research and advocacy, which helps educate regulators about this type of lax enforcement and its impacts on the community and environment. Specifically, this money will contribute toward obtaining and copying vital public documents and information crucial to our efforts and will help CLA and our clients obtain assistance from technical and scientific experts.