Fewer Plastic Bags and Styrofoam Pieces, Hurray!  Green Towson Alliance helps with Stream Cleanups for the 9th year in a row

by Carol Newill

Literally tons and tons of trash have been collected at sites along the Herring Run and tributaries to the Jones Falls in the 9 years that Green Towson Alliance has been recruiting and helping community leaders and volunteers.

This spring, fewer plastic bags and less styrofoam than usual were found at several of the 9 stream cleanup sites. Clearly, recent laws meant to minimize such pollution are working!

However, 136 bags of trash have been removed from 9 stream sites so far this spring. Sadly, most was plastic bottles and other plastics, as well as some cloth and metal items and 2 local street signs.

Towson University students with trash they pulled from the stream.

Where did all that trash come from? As our storms become more extreme, more of the trash from our streets and parking lots washes into the storm drains and then into the streams!

Girl Scouts pulling trash out of a tributary of the Herring Run tributary.

Volunteer participation has been terrific, as 198 adults and 33 children participated in the cleanups this spring so far. 17 Girl Scouts from Troops #1152, #04151and #02294 cleaned a long stretch of stream and its wide ravine. 78 Towson University students from Impact TU Day and many children from a variety of Towson-area schools accompanied their parents at other sites. County Councilmember Mike Ertel helped at several locations, too.

Baltimore County Councilman Mike Ertel working with neighbors to clean this Towson stream.

Teams at 4 sites removed not only trash but also invasive plants, ranging from English Ivy and Porcelainberry vines to garlic mustard and prickly multiflora rosa.

A volunteer clips invasive porcelain berry vines from a streamside tree.

We thank all the volunteers and especially their Site Leaders:  Christine Horel Accardo, Anne Estes, Adreon Hubbard, Berni Kroll, Barbara Lewis, Janice Millard, Beth Miller, Lilly Richardson, Holly Sebastian, Bob Simon, Mike Stopford, Diane Topper.

Baltimore County Council Chair Izzy Patoka with volunteers at a stream cleanup which hauled trash and a massive logjam out of the Roland Run stream in Ruxton.

Two more sites are scheduled for cleanup next month, in Wiltondale and in Fellowship Forest. To help on a weekend morning soon, contact GTA at https://greentowsonalliance.org/contact/

 Let’s Remove Vines and Save our Tree Canopy!

By Raymond Heil

With evidence mounting everywhere, we finally seem to be taking climate change seriously.  In Maryland, we are blessed with an extensive tree canopy, which helps to mitigate the damaging effects of climate change. Through photosynthesis, trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, use the carbon for their growth, and release oxygen back into a cooler atmosphere.  We are experiencing a growing interest in planting trees that seems to be a worldwide movement. Some local examples: The State of Maryland, through the 2021 Tree Solutions Now Act, plans to plant 5 million trees by 2031. In Baltimore County, County Executive Olszewski has established one program to plant 1000 street trees per year, and another that has planted over 2500 trees in underserved communities.  He has also reiterated, in his FY 2023 Budget Message, the county’s goal to achieve a 50% tree canopy countywide.       

This movement is driven in part by the desire to take action against global warming, but most people also value the many ecological, social, psychological and aesthetic value of trees, to numerous to list here. To address climate change, we should all reduce our own carbon footprints, but we should also participate in this movement by looking for opportunities to plant more trees.  Fall is the best time to plant trees in this part of the country.  In Fall 2023, Green Towson Alliance volunteers worked with local community associations and Blue Water Baltimore to plant over 290 native trees in Towson neighborhoods.  Thanks to everyone who worked on this effort!

But the benefits of newly planted trees are dwarfed by the ecological benefits of mature trees. Now is the best time to see the damage being done to our mature trees throughout the Baltimore area by smothering invasive vines. Take a drive on the beltway, up I-83, or on any urban or suburban street bordered by wooded areas. You will see trees. large and small, overwhelmed by invasive vines.  The main culprits are English Ivy, Porcelain Berry, and Oriental Bittersweet.  You may have trees in your own yard that are under stress from these vines.  This growing problem must be reversed if we want to grow our tree canopy and its benefits. 

All of us can help with the important work of invasive vine removal. Here are some actions you can take:

  1. Baltimore City, Carroll County and Montgomery County have well-organized “Weed Warrior” Programs to deploy trained volunteers to remove invasive vines on government-owned properties.  Baltimore County, with extensive county-owned natural areas, does not have such a program.  To achieve the County’s goal of a 50% tree canopy, such a program must be established.  If you are a Baltimore County resident, we ask you to contact your councilperson and request that the county establish a “Weed Warrior” Program and get to work saving the county’s mature trees.
  2. Remove invasive vines from your own trees.  All you need to do is cut the vines near to the ground.  With English Ivy, cut the vines all around the circumference of the tree and do a second cut 10 inches higher.  Remove the severed section creating a “window.”  It is not necessary to remove all the severed vines from the tree as they will die over time.  You can find many helpful how-to videos on vine removal on Youtube.
  3. Organize and support volunteer efforts in your neighborhood to inform neighbors of the invasive vine problem and remove invasive vines from trees on private properties.
  4. Support the 2024 Biodiversity and Agriculture Protection Act, which would restrict the sale of many destructive and non-native plants in Maryland.

Planting young trees and protecting our existing mature trees are two of the most effective steps every person can take to counteract the harmful impacts of climate change.  When we take action against climate change, we begin to see that it is possible to create a livable future for our children and our planet.

A volunteer removes honeysuckle vines from a wooded area.
A volunteer removing invasive honeysuckle vines from a wooded area.

Raymond Heil is on the Executive Committees of Green Towson Alliance and the Baltimore County Green Alliance.

Come on, Get Sappy: Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers and Why Everyone Should Bird

by Adreon Hubbard

I didn’t used to think birdy thoughts on a regular basis. Like most people, I didn’t own a pair of good binoculars or know much about birds. After retiring, however, I signed up for a birding class, got a pair of excellent, yet affordable Vortex Diamondback 10 x 42 binoculars, and gained awareness, Matrix-style, of a new reality. Through numerous outings with instructor Marty Brazeau to local natural areas such as Loch Raven, Cromwell Valley, Oregon Ridge, Marshy Point, and with the help of free birding apps like the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Merlin Bird ID and eBird, I gradually learned how to spot and identify a variety of birds by their sounds, appearance, and behavior. Now I take binoculars with me on nearly every walk or trip, even on short jaunts in Overlook Park down the street or while strolling around our bird-friendly yard. 

An interesting species I recently learned about is a lesser-known migratory woodpecker that winters in Maryland and further south, the comically-named Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (YBS.) Its pale yellow belly can be hard to see, because this bird is usually clinging vertically to a tree trunk, busily making horizontal rows of small holes called sapwells, then licking up the oozing sap with its brush-tipped tongue. YBS is the only woodpecker that makes horizontal rows of holes, which I have observed on a variety of local trees. The holes do not damage most trees unless they are already in decline, and a variety of insects and other wildlife feed on the oozing sap, including hummingbirds. Hummingbirds even time their migration north to take advantage of the sapwells’ sweet sustenance. Any insects going to the sap are typically eaten by the YBS as well, before they can harm the tree.

YBS can be harder to see than other woodpeckers due to its mottled feathers blending into the tree bark, and it is relatively quiet. It makes a distinctive mewing sound, however, which can alert you to its presence. Males have a red crown and throat, whereas females have only the red crown. Both have a distinctive white wing stripe and striped face. I recently spotted a pair of them perched on our backyard utility pole. “No sap there,” I thought. Perhaps they were after insects hiding in the many holes and crevices, or perhaps they were just resting and posing for me to enjoy!

Thankfully, YBS is one of only 39% of bird species globally that are not in decline. North American bird populations have plummeted by three billion birds in the last 50 years due to habitat loss, collisions with glass, predation by outdoor cats, and other factors. Only when we notice and appreciate birds can we begin to work to support their continued existence. I highly recommend giving birding a try!


Marty Brazeau’s April, 2024 Costa Rica birding tour may still have openings: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=21IfZ2xz0L8 

Email Marty at tropicbirder56@gmail.com for questions about the trip or upcoming CCBC birding classes.

Consider joining the Baltimore Bird Club to connect with birders and ongoing birding outings https://mdbirds.org/join/chapters/baltimore-bird-club/

Visit https://abcbirds.org/ to learn more about birds and threats to birds. This group has many excellent, free bird webinars on youtube.

My email is hubbardesol@gmail.com for any questions on supporting birds.

Adreon Hubbard is a member of Green Towson Alliance. Besides birding, she leads a group that removes invasive plants from Overlook Park in Towson. A version of this article originally appeared in the February 2024  Idlewylde Newsletter.

Male Yellow-bellied sapsucker
Male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Female yellow-bellied sapsucker
Female Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Horizontal rows of holes, called sapwells, made by Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers
on a tree in Baltimore.
Marty Brazeau, my inspiring birding instructor, at Loch Raven Reservoir.

Photos of the Yellow-bellied sapsuckers, courtesy of All About Birds.
The photos of the tree and birding instructor were taken by Adreon Hubbard.

Green Towson Alliance discovers sanitary sewer overflow below the Lake Roland Dam after heavy rains on Tuesday, January 9th


Sanitary sewage debris at a sewer “stack” and its manhole cover lying on the ground were discovered on January 10 by a volunteer from Green Towson Alliance (GTA). The overflow near the banks of the Jones Falls was reported to Blue Water Baltimore, Baltimore County Department of Public Works and Transportation (DPWT) and Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE). Wednesday’s discovery was in the same area where GTA volunteers found a Sanitary Sewer Overflow (SSO) in 2019.

The current overflow coincides with Baltimore County Council’s pending approval of the 2023 Triennial Review of the Water Supply and Sewerage Master Plan (W&SMP). GTA issued a statement in September calling for the Council to amend the W&SMP to require an independent review of the information and methods used by DPWT to determine whether public sewerage facilities are adequate to support new development and a moratorium on approvals until recommended changes are implemented.  

GTA and other advocates have challenged whether there are adequate sanitary sewerage facilities in the Jones Falls Sewershed (JFS) since 2016. Baltimore City and County are under Consent Decrees which require elimination of all SSOs. A 2012 study by consultants described work needed to prevent JFS overflows, but the recommended improvements are incomplete leaving system capacity undetermined. GTA estimates almost 2.2 million square feet of development have been built in the JFS since the 2012 study with more development in the queue. The SSOs found by GTA are just downstream from the dam at Lake Roland, which is where consultants predicted the biggest SSOs from large storms would occur. 

DPWT reviews each development proposal for adequate sanitary sewer, but their reviews do not consider MDE requirements to account for how much stormwater enters the system through defects in pipes. In Baltimore County, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) makes the final decision to approve new development. In 2023, the ALJ denied approval of Greenspring Manor, a proposal for 61 new homes in the JFS because of expert testimony that there are not adequate facilities to safely convey the sewerage to a treatment plant. Bluestem, a mixed-use development, was denied for the same reason in 2019. DPWT continues to approve new development and refuses to acknowledge errors in its methods.  

Wednesday’s SSO is evidence that the pipes cannot contain the current volume of sewage that occurs during heavy storms, much less additional flow from new development. Storms are more frequent and more intense in the Mid-Atlantic due to climate change. Overflows are a costly and dangerous threat to public health and aquatic life and violate the Consent Decree, as well as state and local water quality laws. 

Environmental laws are intended to provide equal protection for the public. Currently in Baltimore County, only citizens with the awareness and resources to hire attorneys and expert witnesses can effectively oppose new developments that will further overwhelm the sewer system. 

The GTA statement has garnered broad support from community associations and environmental organizations including Blue Water Baltimore and Sierra Club Maryland Greater Baltimore Group.

Leave the Leaves: Less Work, More Ecological Benefit

by Adreon Hubbard

A walk or bike ride through Towson’s many charming neighborhoods makes a tree-lover really happy. So many yards are filled with trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants, in addition to the more traditional mowed grassy areas. This past fall, more than 300 native trees, including Bald Cypress, Black Gum, Fringetree, Willow and Northern Red Oak, Redbud, River Birch, Sweetbay Magnolia, Sycamore, and Tuiliptree were planted in Towson neighborhoods through our partnership with Blue Water Baltimore. Yay! Most people seem to agree that trees provide many benefits, including shade, cooling, cleaner air, stormwater and erosion control, pollutant filtering, habitat, and beauty.

Volunteers at work, planting native trees in a community park in West Towson.

There seems to be less agreement about what to do with all those leaves when they fall. The simple answer is–as the meme says–“leave the leaves.” Leaf “litter,” as it is so inappropriately called, returns nutrients to the soil, insulates plant roots, and provides critical overwintering and nesting habitat for many species of beneficial insects, including bees, fireflies, many butterfly species, and beautiful moths such as the ethereal Luna moth.

We tend to think of insects only when we see them in their adult form in the warm months while giving little thought to how they get through the winter. Unlike the famous migrating monarch butterflies, most species hunker down for the winter out of sight as either a larva, pupa, or adult in leaf litter, under the soil, or in crevices and nooks and crannies. Many of them unfortunately get killed when we blast the leaves with blowers or put them in plastic bags and get rid of dead plant stalks. Mulching the leaves with a mower puts nutrients back in the soil but also kills the insects. Populations of insects, and birds who depend on them, have plummeted in the last 50 years. Our yard practices matter because there just isn’t enough habitat “out there” anymore.

Since I retired and am home during the week, I notice the lawn services with their noisy leaf blowers removing every leaf from some properties. I take out my hearing aids and ponder ways to spread the message about insects and leaf litter. If you have a thick carpet of leaves, especially Oak or Holly leaves that can take years to break down, consider ditching the leaf blower or lawn service and instead gently raking some of the leaves into your plant beds or into piles in a far corner of the yard–your “wild area.” Get the kids involved–like the group of kids I saw in my neighborhood today squealing with delight while making and jumping in “the world’s biggest leaf pile.”

I would like to add that seeing your yard as habitat instead of just “lawn” or “landscape” is incredibly fun and rewarding. For example, on my daily rounds in the yard the other day, I unexpectedly discovered a large yellow-green and pink caterpillar with horns on its backside crawling on the native Blackhaw Viburnum shrub. I took a photo and uploaded it to the iNaturalist app, which identified it as a Hummingbird Clearwing moth larva in its final instar before pupating in the soil just under leaf litter. I had seen the fascinating native Hummingbird Clearwing moth before, but never the caterpillar, which feeds on the leaves of a variety of trees. Since I had placed only mulch at the base of the shrub, I went off to gather leaves from under the Pin Oak tree in front. By the time I had completed this task, the caterpillar had disappeared! Hopefully it either found another plant to eat or successfully pupated and burrowed through the thin mulch layer (no “mulch volcanoes” in our yard!)

Many neighbors tell me that they leave at least some of their leaves and laugh about being “lazy gardeners.” If you are not a “lazy gardener,” I hope I’ve inspired you to think about leaves as habitat and allow at least some of your leaves to lie where they fall or gently rake them into your garden beds. You may even be inspired to leave seed heads of your flowers for the birds, spent stalks for bees to nest in, and a wood pile! In Spring and Summer when you see adult bees, butterflies, and maybe even a Hummingbird Clearwing moth, you will feel good knowing that you helped them.

A Hummingbird Clearwing moth caterpillar in Adreon’s yard. Its head is to the right.
Adult Hummingbird Clearwing moth Adreon saw in Pennsylvania last summer.
Adreon placed fall leaves under this Viburnum shrub so the month has a perfect landing
place to pupate and overwinter among the dry leaves.
This yard sign was created by GTA member Nan Wray. Luna Moth on the right.
A No Mow area of Adreon’s yard with pathways and native sedges that hold the leaves nicely
The leaves and decomposing log in this plant bed will provide a winter home for many wild creatures.
Close up of another No Mow area with native Bunny Blue Sedge and groundcover plants.
Kids playing in leaves in Adreon’s neighborhood.

Adreon Hubbard is a Master Gardener, Master Naturalist, retired teacher, and a member of Green Towson Alliance. She has taken the photographs in this article.

Proposed Changes to Baltimore County Weed Ordinance

Proposal to amend the Baltimore County Code to include “low-impact landscaping” in the list of exceptions to the county weed control ordinance. This document was presented to Baltimore County Commission on Environmental Quality by the Green Towson Alliance on September 27, 2023.

Green Towson Alliance Calls for the Baltimore County Council to require an independent review of the information and methods Baltimore County Department of Public Works and Transportation (DPWT) uses to approve new development and a moratorium on approvals until new methods are implemented. 

Green Towson Alliance (GTA) and other advocates have challenged the sanitary sewage capacity in the Jones Falls Sewershed since 2016 and are convinced that raw sewage is fouling open waters while more development is being approved. A network of pipes run alongside and under our streams to carry raw sewage from our homes and businesses to treatment plants.  The state of Maryland has laws that require the conveyance of this waste to be safely contained within the sanitary sewer system. But in Baltimore County’s Jones Falls watershed, the size and condition of these pipes is inadequate to prevent raw sewage from overflowing and fouling waters in our streams, lakes, and rivers, especially during heavy rainstorms. This is because stormwater enters pipes through defects and mixes with sewage in quantities that are greater than the pipes can accommodate. Overflows are a costly and dangerous threat to public health and aquatic life.

Both Baltimore City and County are under a Consent Decree to fix the causes of sanitary sewer overflows. The County has performed multiple engineering studies that consistently show a dangerous lack of capacity and how to fix it, but the resources to make those corrections have never materialized.  Since the earliest of these studies in 2012, almost 2.5 million square feet of development have been added in the Baltimore County Jones Falls Sewershed and more development is in-line to be approved. 

DPWT reviews each development proposal for adequate sanitary sewer, but they do not consider the volume of sewage during storms, as is required by the Maryland Department of the Environment. In Baltimore County, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) makes the final decision on approving new development. On July 31, 2023, the ALJ denied approval of Greenspring Station, a proposal for 61 new homes in the Jones Falls Sewershed because expert testimony proved that there were not adequate facilities to safely convey the sewerage to a treatment plant. This is the second development that was denied for this reason, (Bluestem was the first in 2019) but DPWT refuses to acknowledge the error in its methods.

During the next two months, Baltimore County will be amending its Water Supply and Sewerage Master Plan that they must submit to the Maryland Department of the Environment. GTA has submitted a statement to the Planning Board, County Council and County Executive’s Office requesting specific actions be taken to ensure that sanitary sewage does not overflow. Our statement calls for development approvals in the Jones Falls sewershed to be suspended until an independent review of information and methods used to approve new development and redevelopment for adequate sanitary sewer facilities is conducted and implemented.  

Citizens should not have to hire attorneys and expert witnesses to be protected from sanitary sewer overflows! Everyone should be equally protected by environmental laws prohibiting sanitary sewer overflows. Importantly, all watersheds throughout the County will benefit from a correction to the information and methods used to review sanitary sewer adequacy for new development and redevelopments.

Seven community associations along with two umbrella community association groups have already endorsed the GTA statement. Blue Water Baltimore and Sierra Club Maryland Greater Baltimore Group have also signed-on.

The statement from the Green Towson Alliance Executive Committee can be found here.


2023 Triennial Review

Green Towson Alliance Executive Committee
September 8, 2023


As described by the Maryland Department of Planning, “each county is required to prepare, adopt, and annually maintain, a 10-year forecasted Water and Sewerage Plan to demonstrate how safe and adequate water and sewerage facilities will be provided to support planned redevelopment and new growth.” Baltimore County’s plan is due this year for its triennial review by the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE).
The plan first will be reviewed by the Baltimore County Planning Board and then referred to the County Council with any recommended changes. The plan must be approved by the Council and then sent to the County Executive for his approval before being submitted to MDE for final approval.

There is systemic error in the way Baltimore County regulates adequate public sanitary sewerage facilities, the County’s own Administrative Law Judges have confirmed that error and the Department of Public Works and Transportation (DPWT) cannot be relied upon to self-correct.

Therefore, we believe that:

  1. The plan must be amended to require a comprehensive review by outside experts of the methodology and information used by the Baltimore County Department of Public Works and Transportation (DPWT) to a) prepare the Basic Services Sewerage Map and b) review individual development plans to determine whether public sewerage facilities are adequate to support the development described in the plans.
  2. The County Council should enact an ordinance suspending the approval of any development plan requiring the approval of a hearing officer as described in Subtitle 2 of Title 4 of Article 32 of the County Code until the independent review is completed and any recommended changes are implemented.

There is systematic error in the regulatory process by which the County purportedly ensures that sewage from redevelopment and new growth served by public sewerage facilities does not overburden those facilities.

The most important requirement of the sewerage component of a Water and Sewerage Plan is that a county has a regulatory process that complies with Section 9-512 of the Environment Article of the State Code by ensuring that new development served by public sewerage facilities is not approved unless sewage from that new development can be safely conveyed, pumped and treated by those facilities. The County’s process does not satisfy that requirement.

The County’s “adequate public facilities ordinance” (APFO) is found in Title 6 of Article 32 of the County Code. According to Section 32-4-410 of the code, the standard for public sewerage facilities is that they “must be designed and located to function safely and without danger of contaminating groundwater, surface water, or public or private water supplies.”

That standard is supposed to be enforced through annual adoption of
Basic Services Sewerage Map (BSSM) prepared by DPWT in
accordance with Section 4A02 of the Baltimore County Zoning
Regulations and through a a project-by-project review by DPWT. Earlier this year, detailed testimony was submitted to the County Council in opposition to Bill 19-23, which approved the most recent BSSM prepared by DPWT.

The testimony, incorporated by reference to this letter, describes specific flaws in DPWT’s methodology, including the failure to evaluate sewage conveyance (pipe) capacity under wet weather conditions, and also identified the use of inaccurate information, including outdated population and employment estimates. The flawed methodology and inaccurate information result in systematic error by DPWT in recommending the approval of projects for the adequacy of public sewerage facilities, a fact borne out by recent administrative decisions.

Recent decisions by the County’s own administrative law judges have confirmed the systematic error by DPWT.

Beginning in 2018, a series of studies and reports done by private engineering firms on behalf of the County became available to the public. For the first time, Count residents had access to information indicating the DPWT was systematically overstating the adequacy of public sewerage facilities to support new development.

A 2012 study of the public sewerage facilities in the Jones Falls “sewershed” done for the County by the highly regarded engineering firm RK&K was not released to the public until 2018. Revelations of the numerous deficiencies identified by RK&K resulted in challenges to development plans on the basis that public sewerage facilities were not adequate, contrary to recommendations by DPWT.

In 2019, residents contested DPWT’s determination that public sewerage facilities were adequate for the proposed Blue Stem Village project near Lake Roland. They presented expert testimony based on the RK&K report.

The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) John Beverungen, disapproved the development plan for the project, stating that “the sewer system serving the subject property is woefully inadequate to handle existing demand, much less the additional inputs from recently approved developments in the Towson area.” (p. 25) He emphasized the deficiencies in the undersized 42-inch interceptor sewer that carried sewage under Lake Roland. (p. 23) His decision was upheld by the County Board of Appeals.

In July of this year, another ALJ member, Maureen Murphy, denied the proposed Greenspring Manor Development located on Joppa Road, also in the Jones Falls sewershed. After reviewing 13 days of testimony, including extensive testimony from a highly qualified sewer design engineer, she concluded, “it was clear to me the sewage path from the Property cannot handle the existing sewage which flows along that path, much the additional sewage that will come from adding 61 homes to the sewer system.” (p. 129)

Judge Murphy referred to other information that has come to light since 2018, including a “performance assessment” done by RJN Group in 2021. She noted that Johns Hopkins failed to correct deficiencies in eight pipe segments as required for their previous project at Greenspring Station, but clarified that the RJN model-predicted SSO’s “are not only within the Johns Hopkins sewer segments, but are also downstream from the Johns Hopkins’ segments and again within the Project’s sewer path” (p. 118)

Judge Murphy also referred to a 2022 report by the Ramboll Group. “I agree, unfortunately, that the results of the Ramboll report show a worsening of condition of the sewer system…” She found that both the Ramboll report and a 2022 evaluation of the Jones Falls sewershed done by Hazen & Sawyer provided “compelling evidence” that the pipes in the sewage path from the site of the project to the city/county line are at overcapacity. (p. 126)

In 2022, Judge Murphy concluded that the public sewerage facilities for the Torch Hill project on Seminary Avenue, also in the Jones Falls sewershed, were adequate. The Board of Appeals recently voted to approve her decision based on the record of evidence introduced at the Torch Hill hearing.

What changed between her decision in the Torch Hill case in 2022 and her decision this year in the Greenspring Manor case? The answer lies in a point emphasized by Judge Murphy in the Greenspring Manor case: “Neither the Ramboll Report nor the Hazen [Hazen & Sawyer] Report were produced in evidence in Torch Hill.” (p. 124)

The 2022 Ramboll and Hazen & Sawyer reports confirmed that the deficiencies identified by RK&K in 2012 still exist and that public sewerage facilities in the Jones Falls sewershed remain inadequate to support new development. In other words, the entire sewershed should have been designated as “deficient” on the 2022 and 2023 BSSMs approved by the Council.

The history of a lack of transparency by DPWT diminishes the agency’s credibility.

In the Greenspring Manor decision, Judge Murphy made a pointed reference to the failure of engineers from DPWT to appear at the hearing and testify in support of the agency’s position that public sewerage facilities were adequate for the project. In her words, “The silence is deafening.” (p.127) The implication is that the engineers were reluctant to put their professional reputations at risk by defending DPWT’s position.

She also alluded to DPWT’s lack of transparency: “But for the County documents produced through PIA requests, we would not know the extent of the DPWT concerns about the sewer for this project.” (p. 120) That lack of transparency was nothing new.

Environmental activists were tipped off in 2016 about the existence of the 2012 RK&K report described above, but it took them two more years and the intervention of Del. Dana Stein, vice chair of the House Environment and Transportation Committee of the Maryland General Assembly, to obtain a copy from DPWT. The report was part of a requirement under the 2005 consent decree with MDE and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that the County prepare a Sewershed Repair, Replacement and Rehabilitation (SRRR) plan to prevent sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs).

It was not until 2020 that the same group of activists found out that it was DPWT employees, not RK&K employees, who selected the model for predicting the impact of rainfall on the system included in the SRRR plan. DPWT substituted a storm event of 6-hour duration occurring once every 10 years for the storm events of 24-hour duration occurring once every 10 and 20 years used by RK&K in its analysis.

The model selected by DPWT had the effect of eliminating the costliest upgrades that RK&K deemed necessary to comply with the federal consent decree. From all outward appearances, it looks like the SRRR plan was prepared by RK&K. Most of it was – just not the most critical component.  

Finally, during the Council’s annual review and approval of the BSSM in April 2022, Councilman Izzy Patoka asked a representative of DPWT about the condition of the Lake Roland interceptor sewer. The representative made no mention of the Ramboll report confirming that deficiencies identified by RK&K still existed.

The final draft of the Ramboll report was dated June 2022. There were only a few minor changes made to the initial draft published by Ramboll in February 2022, however, and DPWT was aware of the substance of Ramboll’s findings at the time of the Council hearing in April.

The Ramboll report was not disclosed to the Council, nor was it made known to the general public in time to be introduced into evidence in the Torch Hill case in July 2022. A member of the group of activists found the Ramboll report in November 2022. For some reason, the report was posted on the website of the Lake Roland Nature Council, not the first place one would look for a major engineering study done for the County.

Knowledge of Ramboll’s findings likely would have changed the outcome of that case. As described above, Judge Murphy observed in the Greenspring Manor case that “unfortunately, the results of the Ramboll Report showed a worsening of condition of the sewer system” since the 2012 RK&K study – not the improvement claimed by DPWT. (p. 126)

Under the County’s unusual law for approval of development plans, it was Judge Murphy who made the administrative decision on behalf of the County whether or not to approve the proposed development plan for Torch Hill. I.e., the proceedings before her were not an appeal of a prior decision. County agencies, including DPWT, were under a duty to prepare comments for her consideration.

If the County is going to place final administrative decisions on the adequacy of public sewerage facilities in the hands of ALJ’s, then its agencies have a duty to make sure that the ALJs have current and accurate information when decisions are made. In the case of Torch Hill, that meant that DPWT should have provided the Ramboll report to Judge Murphy in time for the July 2022 hearings, even if that required updating its initial comments.

For a span of ten years DPWT failed to disclose documents in a timely manner, took other actions that misled the public about deficiencies in the County’s public sewerage facilities and recommended approval of development that those facilities could not safely support. The review of the County’s process for ensuring the adequacy of public sewerage facilities to support development cannot be entrusted to DPWT.


The fact that ALJs, obligated to apply the law and engineering principles as explained by experts to specific facts, are now consistently rejecting DPWT’s recommendations that public sewerage facilities are adequate to serve proposed projects demonstrates that there is something inherently wrong with the methodology and information used by DPWT. And the fact that engineers from DPWT do not show up at the hearings to defend their recommendations demonstrates that those engineers know something is wrong.

The County’s use of flawed methodology and inaccurate information shifts the burden and expense of enforcing the State and County environmental law described above from DPWT to ordinary residents. That not only results in sporadic and ineffective enforcement but also raises a profound issue of environmental justice: Only residents who can afford to pay lawyers and expert witnesses to contest DPWT’s recommendations before an ALJ get the benefit of law enacted to protect them from the harm done by SSOs.

The Water and Sewerage Plan must include a requirement for a comprehensive review by a team of outside experts of the methodology and information used by DPWT to prepare the BSSM and to review and approve individual development plans for adequacy of public sewerage facilities. The current regulatory process is broken and must be fixed.

Additionally, the County Council should enact an ordinance suspending the approval of any development plan requiring the approval of a hearing officer until that review is completed and any recommended changes are implemented. The Council is the only entity in the County that has the power to impose such a “moratorium” on development.

The Green Towson Alliance Executive Committee:

John Alexander
Ray Heil
Kirsten Hoffman
Beth Miller
Dr. Carol Newill
Lauren Stranahan

Save Native Bees

Our Pollinators Need You!

Of the 100 crop species that provide 90% of human nutrition, over 70 require bee pollination to produce.  Many people are unaware that native bees are the primary pollinator of most of our food crops or increase yield by significantly supplementing the activity of European honeybees.  To put it simply, native pollinators are critical to producing food for humans and wildlife.  Many of these essential pollinators are rapidly declining because of human causes, and this could begin to threaten our food supply and our very existence.

A large study of all 4,337 North American and Hawaiian native bees has raised serious concerns.The key findings:

 Among native bee species with sufficient data to assess, more than half are rapidly declining.

•  Nearly 1 in 4 native bee species is imperiled and at risk of extinction.

The primary causes for the decline in these important insects are loss of habitat, including necessary native plants, and pesticide usage.  With 86% of all land east of the Mississippi in private hands, we need everyone to pitch in to save our bees. 

What can you do?  Avoid using pesticides in your garden and choose native plants, which have coevolved with our wildlife in Maryland for thousands of years.

Need ideas?  Check out Alliance for the Bay for some wonderful plant suggestions.


Bumble bee pollinating crooked-stemmed aster
Photo: Judy Fulton


This article was written by the Maryland Native Plant Coalition.