By Sen. Roy Dyson

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It looks like the 1998 Maryland General Assembly is going to be a battle royal between farmers and watermen. That's a shame, particularly for Southern Maryland where those two occupations were the prime sources of income for most people up until modern times. We in Southern Maryland have to find a way to protect both.

Governor Parris Glendening, in his State of the State address, proposed a plan to battle the Pfiesteria problem on the Eastern Shore with a series of regulations which will require farmers to spend their hard-earned money on pollution control measures which may or may not work, to spend their valuable time on extra paperwork, and to face the prospect of heavy fines if regulators don't like what they have done.

I supported the governor's Smart Growth initiative last year. But is it Smart Growth for the governor now to propose regulations which could easily put some farmers out of business. The developer vultures in Southern Maryland are just waiting for that to happen, where they can pick up the few farmers we have remaining for fire-sale prices. When that happens all hope of preserving a rural lifestyle will be out the window.

Farmers don't want to pollute just as watermen don't want to put their farmer brothers and sisters out of business. This is a problem which can be worked out cooperatively instead of with burdensome regulations. Watermen know all too well about how regulations can directly affect them. Just ask those who have been on a waiting list for a license and they'll give you an ear full. Now our farm tractors will be weighted down with so many regulations they'll be unable to get out the barn door.

The governor is proposing to spend almost $7 million to upgrade sewage treatment plants on the Eastern Shore within three years and other upgrades around the state within five years. I support that effort wholeheartedly. We know that sewage treatment plants pollute rivers. But we don't know yet whether any of these proposed measures aimed at farmers will prevent another Pfiesteria outbreak.

The governor said in his speech, "The state is not blaming farmers for the outbreaks of toxic Pfiesteria." But it sure looks like that is just what is being done in his announced plan. Who else is being asked to bear the burden?

I want to emphasize that I am concerned about Pfiesteria even though Southern Maryland hasn't been affected (as far as we know). There appears to be a health threat. There appears to be something (or some things) that's triggering it.

We know that in an ideal world we should keep nitrogen and phosphorus out of the water. What we don't know is how all the variables are interrelated. We know potential causes but we can't say for sure what is the cause. We know potential solutions. But we can't say for sure what is the real solution.

In that kind of atmosphere it is blatantly unfair to point the finger at one class of people and make them responsible for fixing it. There appears to be no question that farmers will have to be a part of the solution. But others will too, as all of us in the state of Maryland, because solutions are likely to be costly.

I favor treading softly for now until all the answers are clear. The state is contributing to an on-going federal study of the problem. That should continue and be accelerated. And we should continue to request voluntary compliance for a wide range of potential solutions to Pfiesteria and other pollution problems.

But I oppose the way this is heading. This is a fast moving train. The farmers are laying on the track. Instead of pulling farmers off, let's give them time to pull themselves off. Let's just slow down the train a little.

There is no evidence that there isn't enough time to take time and do the right thing. This is not a political issue. It's not a matter of who will win, environmentalists or farmers. It's a mater of the livelihood of many people who have contributed much to our community and its culture. I'm not about to throw that all away.

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