Abingdon Business Park Notice of Intent for a MDE General Stormwater Permit Stirs Controversy and leads to Coalition Building in Opposition

Our heartfelt thanks goes out to attorney Patrick DeArmey of the Chesapeake Legal Alliance for his tireless work and no less than twelve groups, including adjacent community associations namely; Autumn Run Homeowners’ Association, Red Maple/Van Bibber Neighborhood, Philadelphia Station Homeowners’ Association, Abingdon Reserve Homeowners’ Association, Cokesbury Manor Phase Two, area coalitions and nonprofits including the Stop Abingdon Business Park Coalition, Friends of Harford, Together We Will, Harford County Climate Action, and Joppa Development and Heritage Corporation and Chesapeake Bay regional non-profits including the Chesapeake Bay Foundation recently signed on in support of Gunpowder RIVERKEEPER’s letter to request denial of a MDE General Permit for Stormwater Associated with Construction Activity and 40 CFR 122.28 (b)3i for the Notice of Intent (“NOI”) application # MDRCM050E submitted for the Abingdon Business Park.

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Among the issues cited in the letter were due process concerns related to; public notice and public access and how regulated resources like wetlands and buffers will be avoided and minimized that Riverkeeper asserted that there was insufficient information contained in the NOI as advertised on MDE’s e-Permits page.

The letter cited; MDE’s own searchable Integrated report of surface waters that indicates that the Bush River watershed is already significantly impaired by various pollutants associated with urban, commercial and residential stormwater runoff and associated with high percentages of impervious surfaces within the watershed…we request MDE to consider the implications of allowing discharges at this location that will impact the Tier II waters of Otter Point Creek 1. Maryland’s Antidegradation policy requires that discharge permits that will allow new or increased annual discharges and have the potential to impact water quality of a Tier II watershed must evaluate alternatives to eliminate/reduce discharges/impacts and MDE must determine whether these discharges are justified if they cannot be eliminated. Without adequate time for review and documentation included with the advertised NOI, we have no way of knowing how protective of the Tier II waters the controls on this construction activity will be.

It goes on to bring up; past noncompliance of the applicant and their associated contractors and subcontractors that were cited with a stop work order by the Harford County Department of Public Works with concurrence with MDE for performing unpermitted and unauthorized work in the Abingdon Woods Project Area.

Finally, the letter highlights that; there is a demonstrated high level of public interest in the Abingdon Woods project that weighs heavily towards making readily available all documents, plans, and permits related to the project…Given the high level of interest and the fact that we are currently facing the COVID-19 pandemic, MDE should strongly consider extending the public comment deadline for this project to allow the public to obtain the proposed plans and supporting documents and provide MDE with public comments. 

Still interested in this issue? The entire letter (as submitted) to MDE appears here:

April 30, 2020

Maryland Department of Environment
Water and Science Administration
Wastewater Permits Program,
Industrial and General Permits Division,
1800 Washington Boulevard, Suite 455, Baltimore, MD 21230

RE: Notice of Intent Reference # MDRCM050E

To Whom It May Concern,

On behalf of The Gunpowder Riverkeeper (Riverkeeper) and pursuant to Part I.C. of the General Permit for Stormwater Associated with Construction Activity (“general permit”) and 40 CFR 122.28 (b)3i, I am submitting this petition to respectfully request the denial of coverage under the general permit for the Notice of Intent (“NOI”) application # MDRCM050E submitted for the Abingdon Business Park at the East Side of Van Bibber Road south of Interstate 95, Abingdon MD, Harford County, 21009. Riverkeeper submits this letter with support from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF), the members of the Stop Abingdon Business Park Coalition (Coalition) and the Friends of Harford (FOH).

For the reasons detailed below we request the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) to require an individual permit for the activities associated with this NOI and all future NOIs submitted for the Abingdon Business Park/Abingdon Woods Project, regardless of whether the applicants or Department consider this to be a single common plan of development. At a minimum, MDE should extend the public comment deadline for this NOI to provide a legitimate opportunity for public comment on a project that has significant local opposition due to substantial detrimental impacts to the environment.

Public Notice and Public Access:

The NOI, as advertised on the MDE e-Permits webpage, provides insufficient information, such as engineering drawings and plans, to allow us to adequately assess how protective the permit will be for the Bush River watershed. As such, we have had no ability to fully review and provide MDE comments on that plan and the project as a whole. The NOI contains no information about what controls measures and best management practices (BMPs) will be used to protect nearby surface waters and the Tier II catchment of Otter Point Creek I. Additionally, there is no available information or plan for how the impacts to regulated resources like wetlands and their buffers will be avoided or minimized. The only information provided in the NOI is that the applicant claims to have a waiver from stormwater management requirements and a brief letter from the Harford County Soil Conservation District approving the Erosion and Sediment Control (ESC) plans. Yet, these ESC plans are not available for public review with the other documents.

Riverkeeper did not have access to copies of the ESC plans until 4/24/2020, it took about a week of correspondence with MDE, the Harford County Soil Conservation District, the Harford County Department of Public Works, and the applicant’s own contractors, to finally acquire the plans with less than a week left to review and comment before 4/30/2020. This is simply not enough time nor is a 14-day comment period with inaccessible documents a legitimate public comment opportunity. With less than a week to review and write this letter Riverkeeper has only conducted a cursory/preliminary review of the ESC plans.

Bush River Watershed Significantly Impaired:

The entire Bush River watershed stream system is impaired by various pollutants associated with urban, commercial, and residential stormwater runoff and associated with high percentages of impervious surfaces within the watershed. These impairments include TSS, Chlorides, Sulfates, Habitat Alterations/Channelization, and lack of riparian buffers. Furthermore, MDE’s Watershed Report for Biological Impairment of the Bush River makes it clear that the entire Bush River and all its tributaries are heavily impacted by polluted runoff stemming from urban development and high percentages of impervious surfaces. This high level of degradation within the watershed warrants a high level of protection from MDE permits and associated plans and BMPs. Should construction site BMPs fail to prevent the discharge of pollutants, the disturbed soils could add to these impairments and further degrade the already heavily impaired receiving waters.

Additionally, pollutant discharges would negatively impact Otter Point Creek I, noted above, a Tier II stream with no assimilative capacity. Regarding this point, we seek clarification from MDE regarding indications on both the ESC Plan Sheet and Details drawing (S/C Approved Plan #52519) and the Title Sheet and ESC Notes document (S/C Approved Plan #52519) that there is a “NPDES Point ID” associated with this NOI. We also seek clarification regarding the location of this point ID, as it appears to be within the Tier II catchment of Otter Point Creek I at the intersections of Van Bibber and Edgewood roads. We request clarification from MDE as to whether this is a stormwater overflow/discharge point and if so, we request MDE to consider the implications of allowing discharges at this location that will impact the Tier II waters of Otter Point Creek 1. Maryland’s Antidegradation policy requires that discharge permits that will allow new or increased annual discharges and have the potential to impact water quality of a Tier II watershed must evaluate alternatives to eliminate/reduce discharges/impacts and MDE must determine whether these discharges are justified if they cannot be eliminated. Without adequate time for review and documentation included with the advertised NOI, we have no way of knowing how protective of the Tier II waters the controls on this construction activity will be.

Prior Noncompliance:

It should also be noted that this applicant and their associated contractors and subcontractors were cited with a stop work order (attached) by Harford County Department of Public Works for performing unpermitted and unauthorized work in the Abingdon Woods project area. This illegal work was conducted within nontidal wetlands and their buffers and within stream buffer zones, and all without erosion and sediment controls measures in place. This activity resulted in actual discharges to state waters and the potential for sediment discharges from activity conducted without the required BMPs and controls. In light of the applicant’s prior disregard for stormwater controls, MDE should review all proposals for this site with enhanced scrutiny through an individual permit process, and the public must be given legitimate opportunities to provide comment and review of the project, such as the opportunities provided by law for individual permit applications.

Permitting and Construction During COVID-19 Pandemic:

This project also highlights public notice and comment concerns for this specific project and for MDE’s construction stormwater NOI permitting in general during the COVID-19 Pandemic. There is a demonstrated high level of public interest in the Abingdon Woods project that weighs heavily towards making readily available all documents, plans, and permits related to the project. It is our understanding that a project of this nature will likely be required to file multiple construction NOIs for different stages of the project. As such, MDE should take this opportunity to provide better access to information and more public participation opportunities during all stages and NOIs for this project. Given the high level of interest and the fact that we are currently facing the COVID-19 pandemic, MDE should strongly consider extending the public comment deadline for this project to allow the public to obtain the proposed plans and supporting documents and provide MDE with public comments.

It is unlikely that this part of the project nor the entire project is a priority at this time. Allowing this and other non-priority projects to continue on a normal timeline during the pandemic without adaptations to the process that allow for robust public engagement and participation severely hinders our public participation rights in state and county permitting decisions. Public participation through notice and comment is a fundamental aspect of administrative governance, and MDE must work diligently to maintain a high level of public engagement at this time and ensure that hinderances and curtailments in public participation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic are actively addressed.

MDE should consider extending comment deadlines and notice and comment periods for all NOIs received while the State is on lock down. This would give the public a legitimate opportunity to comment and participate. Additionally, MDE should consider delaying decisions on NOIs for projects deemed non-essential until the lock down order is lifted. This would limit the negative impacts on public participation rights, help to flatten the curve, and protect first responders and front-line workers in this pandemic.

For the reasons stated above, we request MDE deny coverage for the above-referenced project until more information is available to the public and there is a legitimate opportunity to review and comment on that information. Additionally, we request MDE to consider requiring an individual permit instead of coverage under the General Permit for this project and all future NOIs associated with the proposed work within Abingdon Woods. As demonstrated above, any increase in the impervious surface percentage in the Bush River watershed is likely to further degrade the already substantially degraded watershed. This warrants MDE to require enhanced stormwater management controls contained in an individual permit.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me directly at 410-216-9441 Ext 205.

Sincerely,


Patrick DeArmey
Staff Attorney
Chesapeake Legal Alliance
501 Sixth Street
Annapolis, MD 21403
(410) 216-9441 Ext. 205
patrick@chesapeakelegal.org
Representing Gunpowder Riverkeeper

Supporting Organizations and Individuals:
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation
The Stop Abingdon Business Park Coalition
Friends of Harford
Beth Shepard, Autumn Run
Douglas and Jean Bonn, Red Maple/Van Bibber neighborhood
Philadelphia Station Homeowners’ Association
Abingdon Reserve Homeowners’ Association
Harford County Climate Action
Autumn Run Homeowners’ Association
Lonnie Vick, Cokesbury Manor Phase Two
Together We Will – Upper Chesapeake
Joppa Development and Heritage Corporation