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November 2013

Alan Girard on Maryland's "Rain Tax"


Photo by Neil Dampier Photography. Urban polluted runoff in Baltimore City.

The following op-ed first appeared in earlier this week. 

We all need clean water—to drink, play in, and to support good fishing and crabbing. A stormwater utility fee is a new way to pay for an old problem: cleaning up water fouled by polluted runoff.

It's also a better way, say residents in Berlin, Centreville, and more than 1,400 communities nationwide that voluntarily have established the fees. A stormwater fee can't be used for other government needs, only for specific improvements in the pipes and ponds that drain our runoff. Salisbury and Oxford are considering such fees.

Urban and suburban polluted runoff is the only major source of pollution to the Chesapeake Bay that is growing. That hurts our pocketbooks and those of our children, because it's more expensive to clean up pollution later. In some neighborhoods, it also can lead to major flooding problems.

Rain washes off our city and suburban landscapes, picking up dog waste, fertilizer, trash, oil, and other contaminants. This is polluted runoff, sometimes called stormwater. Unlike sewage, it generally isn't treated. It flushes directly into our local creeks and rivers. For decades we built our housing developments and commercial districts without much thought to this pollution.

About 20 percent of the nitrogen pollution fouling the Chesapeake Bay from Wicomico County is from urban and suburban stormwater. In the bigger suburbs and cities of Maryland runoff makes up a significantly larger part of the problem.

Historically, local governments have used general tax revenues to maintain and upgrade the stormwater system. But it's rarely enough, especially in tough budget years when many local governments raid those funds to spend them elsewhere.

The independent Environmental Finance Center at the University of Maryland did an extensive study of Salisbury's polluted runoff problem and recommended a stormwater utility fee of adequate size. The city needs about $23 million in the next 10 years to solve its runoff problem, the center determined.

If a government approves an adequate fee, residents can expect to see steady improvement in local creeks and rivers. Inadequate fees can be squandered in administrative expenses. During the last few years, the city of Salisbury, Wicomico Environmental Trust and others have identified specific clean water projects that could be paid for with an adequate stormwater fee. When funded, those efforts should produce concrete results: less flooding, improved quality of life for local residents, and cleaner water flowing into the Wicomico River.

And ironically, this local investment now would make the job of fixing the problem cheaper in the long run. Federal, state, and private grants are available to local governments that can match those funds. In short, some dedicated local revenue leverages more money from other sources.

No one likes a new fee. But just as we invest in our sewer and water systems to ensure a healthy city environment, so we must improve the drainage systems that cause flooding and water pollution.

We're not going to find the needed money under the sofa cushions. Let's join Berlin, Centreville, and other communities for cleaner water and a brighter future.

Alan Girard
CBF's Director of Eastern Shore of Maryland

A Bay Agenda for the Next Governor


Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
The following op-ed originally appeared in the Daily Press just yesterday. 

The candidates for governor have all made creating more Virginia jobs and improving our economy large planks in their campaign platforms. There is perhaps no better region than Tidewater where our next governor can achieve those goals and at the same time save the Chesapeake Bay.

In 2010, after decades of hard work but missed restoration deadlines and commitments, Virginia, her Bay state partners, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) agreed to establish strict pollution targets and deadlines aimed at restoring the Bay, and consequently the Bay's economy, by 2025.

To keep on schedule, Virginia committed to achieving 60 percent of the necessary work by 2017the end of the next governor's term in office. The new governor, whoever he may be, can build on the accomplishments of prior administrations, including those of Gov. McDonnell, to meet the 60 percent goal. But he will have to chart a much more aggressive agenda, especially to reduce runoff from farms and city streets, two of the Bay's most serious water pollution problems.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) has identified five critical actions the next governor must take to ensure Virginia stays on track to meet its Bay cleanup commitments. The five actions are measurable, aggressive, but achievable and will advance restoration of the Bay and our local rivers. They also will help restore the once-mighty economic benefits provided by the Bay for the Tidewater region and beyond. I encourage readers to share them with all of the gubernatorial candidates.

The five actions are:

Reducing farm runoff pollution — Agriculture, Virginia's largest land use, remains the largest source of Bay pollution. Virginia must fully fund and effectively manage the state's conservation cost-share program to help farmers reduce runoff and meet pollution reduction commitments. Should Virginia fail to achieve its specific commitments for reducing farm runoff, the state must proceed with its plan to mandate certain best practices, such as fencing to exclude livestock from streams.

Helping localities reduce urban runoff pollution — Pollution running off streets, parking lots, and rooftops is increasing and threatens to overwhelm past cleanup progress. Virginia should establish a dedicated matching grant fund to help cities and towns better manage runoff pollution. The grants should incentivize innovative and cost-effective practices, require localities to meet their five-year runoff reduction requirements, and foster job creation.

Boosting oysters and the oyster fishery — Oysters filter Bay water, and oyster reefs provide food and homes for many marine creatures. Overharvesting, pollution, and disease decimated Bay oysters, but recently oysters have shown signs of recovery. The oyster industry once supported thousands of jobs and added millions to the state's economy; oysters can do so again. The state should commit to fully restoring oysters in three Virginia rivers and to sustainably growing the state's oyster harvest to 500,000 bushels a year using science-based management and robust enforcement.

Restoring menhaden — Atlantic menhaden have been called "the most important fish in the sea" because of their essential role in the diets of fish, birds, and marine mammals. Menhaden also are harvested for bait and for an industry in Reedville that converts menhaden into oil and other products, providing hundreds of jobs. Menhaden numbers, however, have plummeted to record lows. In four years Virginia must achieve the population target currently established by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission.

Ensuring today's students, Virginia's next generation of leaders, are environmentally literate. The next governor should establish a commission dedicated to ensuring all Virginia students graduate environmentally literate and prepared to address the complex environmental challenges they will face as future citizens, parents, voters, and leaders.

Virginia has an excellent plan in place to reduce pollution and restore clean water to the Bay and its many rivers and streams, and in turn help bolster Virginia's economy. The plan is called the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint, and the Commonwealth already has made much progress toward its implementation.

But to keep moving forward, Virginia's new leaders—indeed, all of us—must redouble efforts to reduce pollution in runoff from farms and city streets, from sewage wastewater, and even from the fertilizers we put on our lawns and gardens. It's going to take all of us working together to succeed, but a saved Bay is within our reach. Let the candidates know failure is not an option—for Virginia, our economy, and our children's future.

—Ann F. Jennings
CBF Virginia Executive Director

Photo of the Week: Chesapeake Stewards

DLC_3630-001Photo by Donna L. Cole. 

"[I took this photo] in June at the headwaters of Spa Creek . . . To me, this speaks to the importance of being stewards of our natural resources, including the Chesapeake, its tributaries, and those that depend upon it. We are just one of many species who share it."

—Donna L. Cole

Ensure that Donna and future generations continue to enjoy extraordinary places like these. Support the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint! 

Do you have a favorite Bay photo you'd like to submit to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Photo of the Week contest? Send your digital images to CBF's E-Communications Manager, Emmy Nicklin, at enicklin [at sign], along with a brief description of where and when you took the photo, and what the Chesapeake Bay means to you. We look forward to seeing your photos!


Special Upcoming Lecture Series on the Bay

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Cal Jackson.

There are many things that make the Eastern Shore of Maryland such a unique and beautiful place to live, and one of these things is the deep, local connection that our community feels with the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers and streams.

The Bay has been deeply tied to the community, culture, and economy of the Shore for as long as people have called this place home. From the folks who have moved here in recent years to the people who work on the water every day, the Chesapeake Bay is clearly an integral part of culture on Maryland's Eastern Shore. 

This November, CBF is partnering with the Talbot County Free Library to offer an exciting program series that will help participants learn more about the Chesapeake Bay, and what we can do as citizens to help restore its health for the benefit of current and future generations. This program will also celebrate the unique heritage of the Eastern Shore and its connection to this important resource.

Here is a complete list of the programs offered in the series. All are free and open to the public:

  • Bay 101: An Introduction to the State of the Bay, Monday, November 4, 6:30 p.m., Talbot County Free Library, 100 West Dover St., Easton, MD
    An introduction to the state of the Bay and our efforts to restore our national treasure.
  • Exploring Bay Country with author Tom Horton, Thursday, November 14, 6:30 p.m., Talbot County Free Library, 100 West Dover St., Easton, MD
    A discussion of the novel Bay Country with author Tom Horton.
  • Managing Your Septic System: The How’s and Why’s, Monday, November 18, 6:30 p.m., Talbot County Free Library, 100 West Dover St., Easton, MD
    Proper care and maintenance with University of Maryland Extension's Herb Reed.
  • Storytellers of the Chesapeake, Monday, November 25, 6:30 p.m., Talbot County Free Library, 100 West Dover St., Easton, MD
    Three Waterman and one Smith Island wife share stories of working on the Bay.

We hope to see you at one or more of these incredible events. A small raffle for beautiful Bay photographs will be held at the conclusion of each evening. Join us for your chance to win!

We look forward to seeing you in November as we all learn more about the Chesapeake Bay and what we can do to help restore it, and to celebrate what makes life on the Eastern Shore so special.

Bess Trout, CBF's Eastern Shore Grassroots Field Specialist 



In the Beginning

Sen. Edmund S. Muskie. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.
The following first appeared in Bay Journal News earlier this month.  

In 1972 Congress was a very different place. A staff member tells how it was that one of our fundamental public health and clean water bills passed. 

Imagine a U.S. senator, so engaged in meetings and hearings to craft environmental legislation that he spends not a single day raising money for re-election until almost the end of his six-year term.

Now imagine that his bill, which will fundamentally alter the relationship between business and environment, passes the Senate unanimously; passes the House with only 14 dissenting votes.

Another planet? Just America in 1972, the year Sen. Ed Muskie of Maine gained passage of the first modern Clean Water Act. Two years earlier, the environment subcommittee Muskie chaired had produced a tough and sweeping Clean Air Act.

"Legislators had time then to think; and the debate was never partisan," said Leon Billings who, as staff director of the environment subcommittee, wrote much of the air and water legislation that still underpins our Chesapeake cleanup.

Billings spoke recently to my students at Salisbury University. He said the air and water acts took "the radical position that there was no right to pollute the public's air and water. Federal environmental laws had all been discretionary. We changed an awful lot of 'mays' to 'shalls.'"

Up to then, industries could discharge into a river until it reached its assimilative capacity—translation: pretty dead. Randy Newman's 1969 song, "Burn On Big River," captured the resulting mess, recounting Cleveland's Cuyahoga River bursting into flames.

As governor of Maine, Muskie had seen desperately needed jobs fall through when a new mill he'd attracted to build on the Saco River pulled out because the water was too polluted.

As U.S. Senator, he spent nearly a decade bringing stakeholders and states across the nation on board for stronger pollution legislation. The Clean Water Act required 44 Senate committee meetings and at least that many in the House.

"These days it would be rare for a senator to attend more than one committee hearing on a bill," Billings said. Fundraising requires so much of legislators' time now.

The 1972 Clean Water Act took aim most directly at sewage, with a multibillion dollar program to help states upgrade wastewater plants. That remains the most successful aspect of the Chesapeake Bay cleanup, with pollution from sewage shrinking even as population has nearly doubled.

Equally impressive is the broad range of pollution the 41-year-old legislation covered—stormwater pollution, agricultural runoff, the overflows of sewers combined with storm drains—even the possibility that too much freshwater taken from rivers could make estuaries like the Chesapeake too salty.

The permit program set up for industries to get ever cleaner as technology advanced spoke of the "elimination" of polluted discharges. That goal of "zero discharge" remains, seldom voiced these days.

"Congress wanted every inch of the U.S. covered," Billings said.

For all of its scope, it seemed that the Clean Water Act benefitted from a focus on human health and welfare: "Back then 'environment' was a made-up word . . . we were just concerned about pollution," he said.

Politically, the times that birthed such legislation were ripe for change—the civil rights movement, the first Earth Day, Vietnam. "There were so many war protestors camped in the halls of Congress, a lot of legislators didn't mind staying in committee hearings just to avoid getting nailed," Billings recalled.

He said Muskie and his colleagues understood "they were in a moment (when) they could change the relationship between government and American capitalism; and that moment would not last."

These days the momentum for environmental improvement seems hard to imagine; does Billings find any optimism a student asked?

He spoke about the "dark days" of his childhood, growing up in a family that ran a progressive newspaper in Billings, Mo. It was the era of McCarthyism, of government witch hunts for "commies." Billings was beaten in school, kicked out of Boy Scouts, his family ostracized.

"And yet, 20 years later I was sitting in the U.S. Congress, crafting some of the most important legislation of my era," he said.

And the far-reaching Clean Water Act remains largely un-eroded, mostly strengthened by modifications through the years, he said. Indeed, a federal court this fall upheld it against an American Farm Bureau challenge that the EPA had overreached its authority in the Chesapeake cleanup.

Hope lies, Billings said, in Section 208, never funded as Congress intended in 1972. It speaks to the Bay's pressing problems of runoff from farms and development: "It has become clearly established that the waters of the nation cannot be restored . . . unless the very complex and difficult problem of nonpoint sources is addressed."

"The authority to move forward is there. Most Americans think air and water are 'settled issues,'" Billings told the students. "They are not. We have left the hardest work for you."

—Tom Horton

Tom Horton has written and reported extensively about the Chesapeake. Distributed by Bay Journal News Service.

We're Halfway There: Hills Farm

10-8-2013 1-03-51 PMThis is one in a series of articles about farmers in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed who have implemented Best Management Practices (BMPs) to improve water quality and efficiency on their farm. As a result of these and other success stories, we're halfway to achieving the nutrient reductions needed to restore the Chesapeake Bay and its waters. View the rest of the series here.

Tim and Susie Brown own Hills Farm, 630 acres adjoining the Chesapeake Bay on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. It's a historic farm dating back to 1747.

Hills Farm also has the distinction of being the first farm on Virginia's Eastern Shore to be protected with an open space easement and the first farm on the Shore to enroll in the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP).

"I'm a big supporter of the Farm Bill," Tim Brown says of the federal legislation that has provided much of the funding for CREP and other farm conservation programs helping farmers protect soil and water resources. "I wish more people would take advantage of the conservation programs."

"We have wildlife buffers around all our crop fields; they filter nutrients out of runoff water, which helps clean up the Bay," he says. "The buffers were installed as part of the CREP program. They do more than filter runoff; they also provide habitat for wildlife."

Hills Farm has 100 acres of tillable land, but most of the farm is woodland and marsh. Of the 100 acres of tillable land, about half is planted in annual crops; the rest is either in CREP or in some sort of wildlife habitat, including 13 acres of impoundments.

Brown has a passion for ducks and wading birds and partnered with Ducks Unlimited to construct several holding ponds that can be planted with annual crops or allowed to grow natural plant foods for ducks, then flooded during the migration season. This provides much needed food for waterfowl migrating along the Eastern Shore, a major East Coast flyway.

"I'm proud that we use conservation practices that not only protect the Bay but also the wildlife that use the Bay and the Eastern Shore."

—Bobby Whitescarver  

 Whitescarver lives in Swoope, Va. For more information, visit his website.

Ensure that people like the Browns are able to continue doing these innovative things on their farms. Tell Congress to protect conservation programs--that are critical to restoring the Bay--in the Farm Bill!

Photos of the Week: When It Rains It Pours!

Flooding in LancasterPhoto by Timothy Shultz.

"Here are some pics from Manheim and Lancaster, PA, from [this weekend's] unprecedented rainfall. The weather forecasters called for 1-3 inches of rain. We received 4-6! Once again, [these photos] show just how inadequate our stormwater [woes are] dealt with. The flooding in Manheim really needs to be addressed. It happens anytime there is a rainfall of more than 3 inches. Lancaster has the same flooding under that bridge with no posted signs."

Timothy Shultz

Polluted runoff from storms is one of the most harmful—and least understood—sources of pollution to the Bay and its rivers and streams. And it's an ever-growing source of pollution to the waters we all love. Learn more about this troublesome water quality threat, and what you can do about it.

Flooding in Manheim2Photo by Timothy Shultz.

Now's the Time to Take Action Against Urban/Suburban Runoff

Polluted runoff from urban and suburban areas creates flooding, can threaten human health and carries toxic chemicals into local waterways. Photo by Dave Harp.
The following originally appeared on the Bay Journal earlier this week.  

We are making progress reducing pollution from agricultural lands and sewage treatment plants. But polluted runoff from urban and suburban streets, parking lots, rooftops, and other impervious surfaces keeps increasing.

Polluted runoff from urban and suburban areas creates flooding, can threaten human health, and carries toxic chemicals into local waterways. In developed areas, it can be a significant contributor to the impairment of streams and rivers.

For example, in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, the Public Works Department estimates that runoff from city streets and suburban parking lots contributes more then 880,000 pounds of nitrogen pollution to local waterways every year. This is more than the nitrogen pollution from agriculture and septic systems combined.

But in Anne Arundel County and other major urban and suburban areas, the way stormwater is treated will be changing. New permits will soon require many jurisdictions to do much more to both reduce and monitor pollution to ensure that reductions are actually occurring.

Traditional stormwater management, which moved water as quickly as possible off roadways and parking lots, will need to be supplemented with new technologies that in many places allow rainwater to seep into the ground, reducing the volume of pollution reaching local rivers and streams. This should reduce both pollution and regular flooding. But it will come with additional costs.

In Virginia, 18 local jurisdictions already have approved fees or taxes to support better management of urban and suburban polluted runoff, and seven more jurisdictions are considering dedicated funding. In addition, this year the Virginia General Assembly established a new state fund providing $35 million in matching grants to assist local governments to better manage stormwater.

Maryland passed a law that required the 10 largest jurisdictions to implement dedicated funding to meet the new requirements. Prince George’s County went a step further, and is setting up a public/private partnership to be responsible for overseeing the installation and management of stormwater controls on public property. Officials hope that they can leverage private investment and expect that 5,000 jobs will be created in the next 10 years.

There are other economic benefits as well. The University of Maryland Environmental Finance Center studied the economic impact and found that for every $100 million invested in stormwater in Anne Arundel County, there will be $220.2 million in benefit to the local economy.

In Washington, D.C., where approximately 43 percent of the land area is composed of rooftops, parking lots, and other impervious surfaces, new stormwater retention performance standards are in place to reduce the harmful impacts to the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers, Rock Creek, and their tributaries. The district also has a rebate program for individuals and businesses that want to install green roofs.

In Pennsylvania this year, the General Assembly passed legislation that allows local governments to establish stormwater authorities. This allows authorities to establish a process for collecting fees or taxes to support the reduction of pollution from stormwater. Many local governments are already discussing implementation.

Lancaster is among the jurisdictions considering a fee or tax. City officials estimate they could cut stormwater costs from $300 million to $140 million with infrastructure like porous pavers, green roofs, and increased tree canopy.

Green infrastructure has the added benefit of improving the quality of life in cities and towns.

Polluted urban and suburban runoff has significantly impaired local waterways. These are local problems that require local solutions. Some are big, like replacing stormwater systems. Some are things we can all do, like installing rain barrels, planting more trees, or building rain gardens.

The progress made in reducing pollution from agriculture and sewage treatment plants shows what can be done when governments, businesses and citizens work together. Progress reducing polluted runoff from urban and suburban areas doesn’t need to happen overnight, but work needs to begin now.

While these signs of progress are reassuring, not all elected officials are on board. One of the largest threats to restoring local rivers, streams, and the Chesapeake Bay are those officials who focus on high costs and say it can’t be done. To them I say look around and see what others have done, embrace new techniques and technologies—and remember that the public overwhelmingly wants clean water.

This is truly the moment in time for cleaning up our waters. There is a Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint in place to guide the state and local governments, and many are beginning to implement the practices that will result in cleaner water.

Our children and grandchildren will thank us for saving our local rivers, streams, and the Chesapeake Bay, but that will only happen if we continue the hard work and investments needed to achieve the goal.

Let’s get to work and finish the job.

—Kim Coble
Vice President of Environmental Protection and Restoration,
Chesapeake Bay Foundation

We're Halfway There: Old Mills Farm

OldMillsFarmThis is one in a series of articles about farmers in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed who have implemented Best Management Practices (BMPs) to improve water quality and efficiency on their farm. As a result of these and other success stories, we're halfway to achieving the nutrient reductions needed to restore the Chesapeake Bay and its waters. View the rest of the series here.

Dave and Tracy Lovell own and operate Old Mill Farms on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. They've been contract growers for Perdue Farms, Inc. for 21 years, operate 11 poultry houses, and produce two million broilers a year. That's a lot of chickens . . . and manure.

"I have a nutrient-management plan on my end and the farmer that takes my manure has one on his end," Dave Lovell said, referring to the farm plans that help ensure manure and fertilizer are managed in the most effective and conservative way. Nutrient management plans are key tools for protecting water quality in local streams and the Chesapeake Bay.

Tina Jerome, District Conservationist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) on the Eastern Shore, knows Old Mill Farms well. "The Lovells are very active in conservation. They have installed just about every practice available to them; they are model poultry farmers," she said.

And although Lovell's farm is not in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, he knows the importance of conservation programs in protecting water quality wherever a farm is located. "I'm not required to have most of these BMPs, but I know they help me be a better steward of the land," Lovell says. "I think the Bay needs to be cleaned up, and these Farm Bill programs help us do that."

Lovell has several Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) contracts with the NRCS that provide both funding and technical assistance for BMPs. He has installed specially designed wind breaks called vegetative environmental buffers around his 11 poultry houses. These buffers help filter out dust, nutrients, and other air pollutants.

The Lovells also installed concrete pads to reduce erosion on heavy use areas and have built two litter sheds and a composter. EQIP also funded a practice to add an amendment to the poultry litter that binds up even more ammonia in the manure.

Funding assistance provided in previous federal Farm Bills has made it possible for Lovell to install these conservation practices on his farm, he says.

"I couldn't do all these BMPs without help, and I hope these programs continue in the next Farm Bill."

—Bobby Whitescarver  

 Whitescarver lives in Swoope, Va. For more information, visit his website.

Ensure that people like the Lovells are able to continue doing these innovative things on their farms. Tell Congress to protect conservation programs--that are critical to restoring the Bay--in the Farm Bill!

Maryland Cabinet Secretaries Criticize Charles County’s Growth Plan

Mattawoman2The following originally appeared on the Chesapeake Notebook Bay Journal Blog last week. 

 Eight Maryland cabinet secretaries have sent a sharply worded letter to Charles County Commissioners, criticizing their comprehensive plan and urging the county to change course and conserve its natural lands.

It's the first time the secretaries have written such a letter in Maryland, where state agencies largely serve in an advisory role when it comes to planning decisions.

The secretaries, who are part of the Maryland Smart Growth Subcabinet, say the county's draft plan is "contrary to longstanding smart planning" and "largely ignores the county's wealth of natural resources," which include forests, farmland and various tributaries of the Potomac River, including Zekiah Swamp and Mattawoman Creek. The creek is one of the state's most productive nurseries for fish and plants.

You can read their letter here.

The county's draft plan changes 150,000 acres from conservation to residential use. Some farmers may be happy with that scenario because it will allow them to subdivide land and sell it to developers. But planners, environmentalists and conservationists decry the change, saying that such dense development will ruin the remaining resources and further fragment the county.

"It became more and more clear that the Planning Commission was going forward with a flawed plan, one that is the biggest rollback we've ever seen," said Maryland Planning Secretary Richard Hall. 

Dru-Schmidt Perkins, the longtime executive director of the group 1,000 Friends of Maryland, called the plan "outrageous." She agreed that, in her nearly two decades with the agency, she'd never seen that kind of rollback before.

According to Schmidt-Perkins and 1,000 Friends' Kimberly Brandt, the rollback began when a group of property owners in the western part of the county hired Murray Levy, a former state delegate and commissioner, as their lobbyist. The property owners--some of them speculators--want to increase their land's value. Levy knows his way around the county, and was "very influential" in crafting the plan, according to Hall and others familiar with the plan.

Their group is called the Balanced Growth Initiative. According to their website, they're trying to balance property rights with environmental stewardship.

Educating the people of Charles County about these possible changes in their future has been difficult, Hall and Schmidt-Perkins say. Many county workers commute to D.C. The newspaper that is devoted to the county, the Maryland Independent, only publishes twice a week. It has dutifully covered the hearings and meetings, but it's been hard to see if people in the county care deeply about the possible changes. But 1,000 Friends surveys have shown people there do care deeply about the county's natural resources, and do use them--visiting Mattawoman, Nanjemoy and other county gems on the weekends. Indeed, Hall said, it's the reason many people choose to live in Charles County.

It's rare for state agencies to weigh in with criticism on a county's growth plan. But it's not the first time it’s happened in Charles County. Two years ago, the county was in the throes of trying to build a road--the Cross-County Connector--that would have impacted Mattawoman Creek and Chapman Forest. The Maryland Department of the Environment, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the Army Corps of Engineers all opposed the project; eventually, the Corps denied the permit, which killed the road. But the county can bring it back if it provides the money necessary to conduct environmental studies, and it has now vowed to do so.

Other counties in the fast-growing corridors near Washington have taken different approaches. As Tom Horton recently reported in the Bay Journal, Calvert County--right next door--has put a cap on development and instituted a transfer-development-rights program that has been successful at keeping sprawl to a minimum. Montgomery County has six times as many people as Charles, yet it manages to keep a third of its land in resource conservation.

Many residents also have been unhappy with Charles County's plan, which Hall says was not written by professional planners with the county. According to the Maryland Independent, at a planning commission meeting, where the plan was approved, Indian Head resident Ed Joell summed up his feelings thusly:

"This process was transparent in that we could all watch it happen, but it was like watching an accident that you couldn't stop," he said. "In my experience, I've never seen a government commission less open and less concerned with the affairs of people . . . In my opinion, no nonelected body should be given the ability to make crucial decisions that will impact all the people in the county from now until far into the future. The comprehensive plan should have been left in the hands of professionals . . . with approval from the county board of commissioners.”

Smart Growth Alliance for Charles County, 1,000 Friends of Maryland and Mattawoman Watershed Society have also been active opponents of the plan.

As for what the state can do about a plan they abhor, Hall said there are some options. Charles County wants state money for transit-oriented development in Waldorf. It may find those funds going elsewhere. Same goes for road funding or other assistance. But, Hall stressed, the state is still hoping to work with Charles officials to amend the plan and save the county's green spaces and rural character.

There is still a chance for those who oppose the plan to make their voices heard. On Tuesday, Oct. 29, at 7 p.m., the commissioners will hold a hearing. Sign-in for verbal comment begins at 5:30 p.m. For more information, call Amy Blessinger at 301/645-0650 or e-mail

—Rona Kobell