By Sen. Roy Dyson

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No question: there is a problem. Fish died; people got sick. The Pfiesteria outbreak this past summer underscores the delicate balance that exists in the Chesapeake Bay.

When I was in Congress I secured millions of dollars for research into diseases affecting oysters. The state and federal government pour millions of dollars into the Bay every year to find solutions to complex problems. Sometimes the answers are elusive because there are so many variables. It would be nice, but it is unrealistic, to say that if we spend "X" amount of dollars aimed at "Y" problem then the Bay will end up a healthy body of water.

The truth of the matter is that the Chesapeake Bay is a remarkably resilient body of water which seems to be able, though the ebb and flow of tides, and natural effects of rain and droughts, to survive in spite of what we do to it. Chesapeake guru, Dr. Eugene Cronin, used to say that all the time. But everyone agrees that even the Bay has its limits.

There is no scientific evidence that the Pfiesteria problem was an indication of the end being in sight. In fact the rivers that had Pfiesteria outbreaks bounced right back. There is thus a growing awareness among legislators that the sky really isn't falling. Lets continue to work on solutions, but let's not do it in a panic.

The governor's Pfiesteria plan, included in a bill now before us, has an unnecessary element of panic. It makes farmers the bad guys and puts the burden of solutions on them. They do need to be part of the solution. But scientists have said all along that agricultural runoff is only one of the Bay's pollution problems. It has as equal partners the point source pollution from sewage treatment plants and air pollution from acid rain and our cars.

I support and cosponsored a compromise bill which has been introduced in the Maryland General Assembly. This bill recognizes the need to control agricultural runoff. It recognizes the need for a working partnership between government and farmers. The partnership is built on a voluntary effort. It leaves the draconian measures in a drawer along with the panic button. There is still time for that but I don't think we are anywhere close to it now, nor do I foresee the need anytime in the future.

State government in this whole Pfiesteria thing is being hypocritical. When the Chesapeake Bay program was initiated in 1985, Calvert Soil Conservation Service was provided with one state planner and two technicians to address agricultural runoff into the Bay. By 1990, $24,000 of a total operating budget of $45,000 for Calvert Soil Conservation came from the state. Yet in the 1997 operating budget, that state money had shrunk to $18,00 causing a corresponding decline in their overall budget. As I said there's enough blame to go around for everyone.

Some supporters of the governor's Pfiesteria plan will try to call those who oppose it anti-environment and anti-Bay. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Among the supporters of the compromise are legislators, such as myself, with long records of support for the environment. I defy anyone to challenge my credentials when it comes to the Chesapeake Bay. Likewise many farmers have done more than their share already.

The compromise bill sets up voluntary goals and gives farmers more time to reach them. I am convinced these are attainable goals. Farmers recognize that they have to be part of the solution. I am proud of them as I am proud of the Calvert countians who make their living on the water. They have coexisted for more than 300 years. There's no reason why that can't continue.

The governor's bill will be the subject of two days of public hearings this week in Annapolis before my Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee. There's been a change from the initial plans for the first day, Thursday, February 12th, to just hear from administration representatives. Instead we will alternate testimony between opponents and proponents. So you can come up either day to testify.

I understand many busloads of farmers will be coming here from Southern Maryland and around the state. Come armed with facts and figures and convince skeptics that you want to be part of the solution and not singled out as being the problem. The hearings are at 1 p.m., Thursday and Friday, February 12 and 13. They will be in the Joint Hearing Room of Legislative Services Building across the street from the statehouse. Hope to see you there.

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