County mulls expanding ag mulching, composting

Associate Editor

ELLICOTT CITY, Md. (May 23, 2017) — Agricultural mulching and composting could be expanded in Howard County under a new group of policy recommendations from the county’s planning and zoning department.
The changes, if approved, could settle a years-long debate between farmers and residents over the shifting use of agricultural land that is located primarily in the rural western half of the county.
Residents have fought against mulching and composting operations that they said violate the spirit of the county’s agricultural preservation program.
The department sought to accommodate residents’ concerns while giving farmers necessary leeway to diversify their operations in a rapidly evolving agricultural market, according to a May 11 staff report.
Under the new proposals, composting on rural conservation or rural residential land requiring a permit from the Maryland Department of the Environment could be granted a county permit for facilities up to three acres that primarily support farming operations. That would apply only to composting facilities that fall within the state’s first two composting facility tiers.
Tier 1 composting facilities only accept yard waste. Tier 2 facilities accept others including food scraps, non-recyclable paper and dead animals.
Any other uses — which would be considered conditional — within those two tiers would need through a facility less than five acres or 10 percent of the site. That also includes large Tier 2 permits, which allow for more than 10,000 cubic yards of compost production per year.
Mulching — or natural wood waste recycling as its called in Howard County — that requires a state MDE permit would be considered a conditional use and would also be limited to five acres or 10 percent of the site.
The county planning board will consider the proposal May 25, though it will also consider regulation changes favored by residents that are more restrictive, though less restrictive than current regulations.
The board would then make a final recommendation to the county council.