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Posted on July 09, 2003:
Recent newspaper articles about the health of the Chesapeake Bay have been troubling to say the least. Despite more than 30 years of efforts by former and current Congressional, state legislators and Bay friendly organizations and billions of dollars spent towards Bay restoration. A recent newspaper headline said Bay cleanup efforts have “stalled.”
This has troubled not only me who has championed legislation and other efforts to clean up our most precious waterway since I was first elected to public office in 1974, but many other Bay protectors as well. Most notably, Governor Harry Hughes and former U.S. Senator Charles “Mac” Mathias showed outstanding leadership in protecting the Bay.
Thirty years ago, Senator Mathias won support of a three-year, $15 million study of the Bay, an estuary he saw was in deep trouble. Recently, the retired Senator Mathias made a rare public appearance saying little progress has been done, insinuating that his bold vision to clean up the Bay way back when was all for naught.
In 1984, Governor Hughes pushed through a controversial, but landmark bill called the Chesapeake Bay Critical Area Protection Program. It was established because Governor Hughes understood that the quality and productivity of the waters of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries had seriously declined due to human activity. Increased development along the Bay (estimated at about an increase of 25 percent) was the chief antagonist. With the development came increased levels of pollutants, nutrients and toxins in the estuary.
The goals of the critical area program were three-fold. The first was to minimize adverse impacts on water quality that results from pollutants that are discharged from structure or conveyance or that have run off from surrounding lands. The second was to conserve fish, wildlife and plant habitat. The third was to establish land use policies for development in the Chesapeake Bay Critical Area which accommodate growth and also recognize that while pollution can be controlled, the number, movement and activities of persons in that area can create adverse environmental impacts.
A Chesapeake Bay Critical Area is defined by: the water and land of the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal tributaries, all state-owned tidal wetlands and all privately-owned tidal wetlands and 1,000 feet landward from the head of tide or from the landward boundaries of the either State or privately owned tidal wetlands.
The Critical Area is comprised of approximately 10 percent of the land area of Maryland, or 700,000 acres.
The Critical Area Protection Program thrived for some time until a series of court decisions watered it down so significantly that new legislation had to be introduced to stop further erosion of the original purpose of the protection program.
In 2002, I was successful in getting Senate Bill 326 -- the Chesapeake Bay Critical Area Protection Program into law. This legislation (Chapter 431) strengthened the original Critical Area Protection Program substantially. The law makes it less easier for those seeking to build in a critical area to receive an exemption. It was hailed as one of the most significant environmental bills in several years.
Senate Bill 326 was important for all of Maryland, but Southern Maryland in particular. I am proud to represent all three counties in Southern Maryland. All three are among the fastest growing in the state. It is imperative that we do not let this growth creep into the critical area buffer.
Also in 2002, the General Assembly passed the Atlantic Coastal Bays Protection Act. This bill preserves and protects the water quality and natural habitats of the Atlantic Coast bays.
These were two crucial bills to protect our Critical Areas in general and the Bay specifically. But much more needs to be done.
On July 9, as the presiding Senate Chair of the Critical Area Commission for the Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays Committee I will address these latest concerns that have been raised by Senator Mathias, the CBF and other environmental groups.
I look forward to working with Martin Madden, the new chairman of the Critical Area Commission for the Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays.
I have talked with Chairman Madden, a former colleague of mine in the State Senate and his enthusiasm and desire to make a significant difference in his new position is palpable. Together with the other members of the committee and the Commission staff, we will make a difference.
No longer, will the grand dreams of people like Senator Mathias, Governor Hughes and so many others committed to the Bay be “stalled.”
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