A Tipping Point for Good

The following first appeared in Truth Out.

The Brock Environmental Center, located at Pleasure House Point in Virginia Beach, VA

We've known for a long time that the Earth is warming, but it could be worse than we thought. A recent report from the World Meteorological Organization concludes that carbon pollution and the buildup of greenhouse gases that trap heat in the atmosphere are increasing much faster than projected. And this pollution is putting communities across the country at a higher risk of droughts, intense storms, floods, and other problems brought on by global warming.

In the Chesapeake Bay region, we're on the front lines of climate change. Streets in Norfolk, Virginia, home to nearly a quarter of a million people and the world's largest naval base, routinely flood during heavy rains. Wind-and wave-pushed storm surges make the flooding even worse. And scientists estimate sea levels in Norfolk will rise another foot and a half within the next 50 years.

Virginians are scrambling to prepare the region for these changes. The governor convened a special commission to recommend action; the military is looking hard at the future of its Hampton Roads bases—and local governments, businesses, and citizens are bracing for the worst.

But at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, we're not blinking; we're creating a tipping point for the good by helping to develop solutions that could be a model for coastal regions across the country and the world where climate change threatens our livelihood and our future.

In November 2014, we'll open the doors to the new Brock Environmental Center—a 10,000 square-foot environmental education and community center in Virginia Beach, VA. By adapting existing technologies and utilizing old-school building techniques, we're building an energy efficient and environmentally smart building that will reduce damaging carbon pollution and adapt to rising sea-levels and a changing climate.

The solution starts with energy independence. To achieve that goal, the Brock Environmental Center is designed to use 80 percent less energy than typical buildings. The building will generate clean renewable energy from two wind turbines and rooftop solar.

Our designers curved the building and positioned it to maximize natural sunlight and maritime winds. The building features a "dog trot," an open deck in the middle of the building that promotes natural ventilation by allowing cool air to flow in and heat to flow out. It's an old trick used by Colonial builders in the South before the era of air conditioning. The highly insulated building significantly reduces the need for heating and air conditioning.

Together with the center's ultra-tight walls, windows, and doors, extra insulation and energy efficiencies, the Brock Center will truly be energy independent.

The building will also be water independent. Rainwater will be harvested from the roof and treated, allowing us to use our own water for drinking, sinks and showers, and other needs. Any excess rain water will flow into nearby rain gardens. "Gray water" will be used for native grasses, flowers, and shrubs. Even the center's bathrooms will use waterless toilets that compost waste in waterproof bins until the harmless compost can be spread on the grounds.

Anticipating more regional flooding, we have raised the building on pylons about 13 feet above current sea level and above any expected flooding in the coming decades.

Most importantly, we deliberately left the landscaping around the building as natural as possible in marsh, sand, shrubs, and trees. There are no paved parking lots; staff and visitors will park on nearby streets and walk to the center on a natural path through the woods. Any code-required handicap and emergency accesses will use permeable pavers that let water soak in rather than run off.

All of this natural, "soft" landscaping makes the Brock Center serve as a giant sponge, absorbing rainfall and storm surges and allowing flood waters to spread and recede naturally without harm to the center or nearby neighborhoods.

Researchers, students, designers, and architects will come to the Brock Environmental Center to learn about the Chesapeake Bay and environmentally smart building techniques to reduce carbon pollution and prepare our communities for climate change. As people take these techniques back to their communities around the country and the world, it will help create a tipping point for the good.

—Will Baker, CBF President

Watch this video, discussing the genesis of the Brock Environmental Center project and how it is a model for combating climate change and future coastal buildings. 

A Litigation Boost

Ariel-Solaski_180In our fight to save the Bay, the litigation team just received a boost, thanks to the recent addition of CBF's first Litigation Fellow Ariel Solaski. The fellowship is designed to give the litigation team increased capacity to identify and address legal issues surrounding the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint—our best, and perhaps last, chance for real clean water restoration in our region.  

Jon Mueller, Vice President for Litigation, welcomed Ariel on board, saying, "Ariel comes highly recommended from Vermont Law School which has been identified with having the country's premier environmental law program. We are very excited to have her as Ariel has the smarts and training to provide CBF with superior legal counsel, plus, she has the right measure of grit and humor to work well with our team."

We sat down with Ariel to ask her a few questions about what drew her to environmental causes and to CBF.

Q: What first made you interested in environmental issues?
A: I spent every summer of my childhood at Watch Hill, Fire Island, a barrier island beach along the south shore of Long Island, New York. It is a federally designated National Seashore so there's very little development. The peacefulness and beauty of the undeveloped barrier beach, with the ocean on one side and the bay on the other side, is the most important place to me on earth. Then, as a young adult, I spent time in the private communities at the other end of the island that didn't have the same environmental protections. It was a very different scene and led me to realize the importance of protecting the natural environment.

Q: Why did you take this position as CBF's first Legal Fellow?
A: I went to law school to study environmental law and I knew that I wanted to participate in the environmental movement using legal tools. While in law school I found that water law was what really interested and excited me the most, and I took every opportunity to be involved in water law programs and courses. The Litigation Fellowship is perfectly focused on what I want to do in my career as an environmental lawyer.  

Q: What do you hope to achieve during your time at CBF?
A: I hope that as the first Litigation Fellow I establish the value of this position to the litigation team and the organization as a whole. In helping contribute to CBF's mission to save the Bay, I'm particularly interested in working on land use measures that preserve natural filtration systems. Examples of this include green infrastructure to filter out stormwater and other runoff, and filtration systems that encourage source water protection to protect drinking water supplies and habitats.

—Drew Robinson, CBF's Digital Media Associate

Getting "Run Off" the Beach Because of Runoff

The following first appeared as a Letter to the Editor in the Daily Press earlier this week.

Beachsign, blog1
Beach goers in Virginia Beach "run off" the beach from dirty water. Photo by Andrea Moran/CBF Staff

The lower Chesapeake Bay has indeed been fortunate in dodging oxygen-starved dead zones this summer. However, Hampton Roads has seen its share of dirty, unsafe water in recent months.

Just last week, the Virginia Department of Health condemned oyster beds in parts of the James River off Newport News, banning all shellfish harvests there for the rest of September because the water "has been subjected to sewage spills likely containing pathogenic bacteria and viruses, and because the area is not a safe area from which to take shellfish for direct marketing."

Earlier this summer, health officials closed beaches along Ocean View in Norfolk, James River beaches in Newport News, Yorktown Beach, Gloucester Point Beach and the Virginia Beach oceanfront because of high bacteria levels in the water. As of last month, authorities had issued 31 swimming advisories for 16 different beaches, nearly all of them in Hampton Roads, spanning 74 days.

While unsafe beaches can be caused by natural factors such as bird droppings, more often it is the result of pollution running off streets, parking lots and lawns. Even a gentle rain washes pet waste, sewage, litter, grease, oil, fertilizer and other toxic substances off the land and into storm drains leading to nearby waterways. This pollution not only threatens public health, it hurts our local water-based businesses and industries.

Most importantly, runoff pollution is preventable. All of us can do our part to reduce runoff from our homes, yards, schools, businesses, and neighborhoods.

To learn more, go to cbf.org/runoff. Safe beaches are ours for the choosing. Choose clean water.

—Christy Everett, CBF Hampton Roads Director

Baltimore's Butchers Hill Makes Strides in Reducing Polluted Runoff

The following first appeared in the Baltimore Guide.

This curb bump-out, at North Collington Avenue and Baltimore Street, is in the early stages of construction. Photo by Erik Zygmont.

Could it be the greenery? On muggy summer days, the temperature's a little lower in Butchers Hill, and shade seems more readily available.

In recent days, the bucolic neighborhood has gained even more green assets. With a "Blue Alley" and a water-filtering curb bump-out complete, and more on the way, the neighborhood continues to move toward fulfilling a greening master plan released in 2008.

A "Blue Alley" is an alley that has been made pervious, in which some rainwater absorbs into the ground rather than joins the rush of runoff into the storm drain system and eventually into the bay.

Last year, Blue Water Baltimore, the organization behind the Blue Alleys, told the Guide that in an especially severe storm, an under-drain below the pervious surface would funnel excess stormwater into the regular drain system, but even in extreme situations, huge discharges into the Bay would be reduced.

Similarly to Blue Alleys, curb bump-outs catch and absorb rainwater rather than allowing it to flow into the city's already-overwhelmed drain system. Curb bump-outs are essentially planting beds that take up space on the side of the roadways in the same manner as parked cars.

The two new curb bump-outs in Butchers Hill–at the intersections of Chester Street and Fairmount Aveunue as well as North Collington Avenue and Baltimore Street do not result in any loss of parking, however, because they are placed at corner dead spaces, where parking was prohibited anyway so as not to impede visibility.

"I'm happy that they are nearing completion," said Sandra Sales, a Butchers Hill resident who has been liaisoning with Blue Water Baltimore for the Blue Alleys and curb bump-outs project.

"I look forward to the plantings and seeing how they really improve runoff into the harbor."

In addition to not impacting parking, the curb bump-outs feature pedestrian pass-throughs to allow pedestrians to cross the street.

"It's a new animal and it'll be interesting to see how that works," said Sales.

In a previous interview with the Guide, Blue Water Baltimore said that the bulk of the funding for the project was a $600,000 grant from the National Wildlife Foundation with $300,000 in matching funds from the Baltimore City Department of Public Works and the Baltimore City Department of transportation.

The overall project also includes two Blue Alleys in the Patterson Park neighborhood, just south of Fayette Street between Lakewood Avenue and Glover Street, and between Rose Street and Luzerne Avenue.

Both neighborhoods continue to work on greening initiatives. The Patterson Park Neighborhood Association recently received a $250,000 grant from the Chesapeake Bay Trust for just that.

In Butchers Hill, Andrew Crummey, chair of the Butchers Hill Association's Streetscape Committee, said that about 15 trees have been added to the neighborhood this year, with assistance from the city.

The neighborhood's getting greener, but in a controlled fashion. Butchers Hill is one of the few neighborhoods in which all trees are, at the moment, fully pruned, which Crummey said is "fantastic."

He also noted the neighborhood's planting strips--green strips of grass or other plants between the sidewalk and the road--at the 100 block of South Chester and the unit blocks of North Collington Avenue and North Chester.

"If we could coordinate the curb bump-outs and the planting strips, a lot of water would be absorbed," commented Crummey.

—Erik Zygmont

Toldeo's Toxic Water Emphasizes Need to Reduce Pollution

The following first appeared in the Bay Journal News.

An algal bloom at Mattawoman Creek. Photo by John Surrick/CBF Staff

Surviving a heart attack is a huge wake-up call that usually warrants a change of diet. Toledo, Ohio, just survived a heart attack.

The city's drinking water, drawn from Lake Erie, became toxic because of a huge algae bloom. Algae blooms are caused by too much nitrogen and phosphorous in the water. This one was the city's wake-up call and signals it's time for a change of lifestyle.

The algae that caused Toledo's heart attack is naturally present in most water bodies including all of the Great Lakes, the Chesapeake Bay, the Albemarle Sound and the Gulf of Mexico. Too much nitrogen and or phosphorous, which feed the algae, can cause these algae to grow to enormous sizes called "blooms" that give off toxic substances that harm humans, wildlife and the aquatic ecosystem. Algae blooms are also responsible for "dead zones," which are areas in water bodies so depleted of oxygen that nothing can live.

Nitrogen and phosphorous are major components in fertilizer, manure and sewage. Improper use of fertilizer and manure contaminates our streams when rainwater washes off agricultural fields, feedlots, lawns and golf courses. Failing septic systems and outdated wastewater treatment plants also contribute to the excessive nutrient loading of our streams.

Reducing nutrients in our streams and rivers is the cure; some call this a "pollution diet". We have a pollution diet under way right now in the Chesapeake Bay watershed — and it is working.  Nitrogen and phosphorus levels in the Chesapeake Bay have been cut in half since the mid 1980s despite the fact that the population in the Bay watershed increased 30 percent from 13.5 million in 1985 to 17 million in 2012. This is an incredible achievement! The "diet" is working.

Reducing nutrients in streams is not rocket science. We know how to do it. Each of the six states in the Bay watershed came up their own pollution diet to reduce nutrient loading into their streams and rivers. These six plans were approved by the Environmental Protection Agency several years ago and together form the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint.

Lots of people are working together to implement the Blueprint. Farmers are fencing their cows out of the streams, planting riparian buffers, using fertilizers more responsibly and reducing soil erosion by using no-till methods and cover crops during the winter.

Local and state governments are investing in sewage treatment upgrades that remove nutrients from their discharges. People in cities and suburban areas are using less fertilizer on their lawns. Legislatures are passing laws encouraging nutrient management and have eliminated phosphorous in lawn fertilizers. Citizens are paying stormwater utility fees to help fund stormwater management projects.

There are deep-pocketed lobbyists from outside the Bay watershed that don't like the pollution diet for the Bay. The Fertilizer Institute, the American Farm Bureau Federation, the Corn Growers Association, the National Pork Producers Council, the National Chicken Council, the National Association of Home Builders and other lobbying groups associated with activities that contribute to nutrient loading are suing the EPA over the plan to restore the Chesapeake Bay.

Even more disturbing is the fact that the attorneys general in 21 states, most of them in the Mississippi watershed, signed "friend of the court" briefs on behalf of these deep-pocketed lobbyists. Meanwhile, Toledo can't use their water and the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico remains the second largest in the world.

Clean water is a choice. The people of the Chesapeake Bay watershed have agreed on a plan to get there. Successful implementation and the Chesapeake's plan will result in safer and more abundant seafood, jobs and tourism. We will have a healthier world; something we can be proud of.

I lament that we have to waste time and money on a lawsuit because we want/need cleaner water.

What happened in Toledo is unfortunate and tragic. For a remedy, they need to look no farther than the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. It's a "pollution diet" that is working.

—Robert Whitescarver
Whitescarver is a recently retired USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) conservationist who spent more than 30 years working with farmers on conservation practices. He now has his own private consulting business where he helps landowners create an overall vision and plan for their land. He also works with CBF to help famers install more Best Managment Practices (BMPs) in the Shenandoah Valley. He is the recipient of a CBF Conservationist of the Year award.

Take a moment to sign your name in support of clean water to protect the Bay and its rivers and streams for our children and grandchildren!

On Mattawoman Creek, Old Habits Die Hard

Schlyer-cbr-9506Recreational fishermen try their luck on Mattawoman Creek. By Krista Schlyer/iLCP. 

It might come as a surprise that one of the mid-Atlantic's healthiest rivers lies less than 20 miles from the Nation's Capital. Mattawoman Creek, situated squarely in the middle of the fourth largest metro area in the U.S., still supports a world-class bass fishery and ranks 8th out of 137 on Maryland's list of most productive freshwater rivers. Some stretches of the creek are even entered on Maryland's dwindling list of highest quality (Tier 2) waters, which support a diverse assemblage of aquatic species, rare plants, and forest interior dwelling birds. 

It turns out that is what's possible when a mostly forested watershed is left intact.

The trouble is, it might not be forested much longer. Over the years, some Charles County leaders have drawn up plans to supplant about 9,000 acres of mostly wooded land with sprawling lawns and cul-de-sacs. In the end, such plans would drive a massive increase in impervious surface that state and federal agencies like Maryland's Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have said could devastate the creek.

Growth has to go somewhere, proponents of this super-sized development district argue. And it's true that failing to plan properly for growth can lead to all kinds of problems. But that is precisely why citizens across the county were shocked to see three years of hard work and consensus-building tossed aside: A rational plan to focus growth around existing communities, recommended by planning staff, was rejected by the county's Planning Commission in favor of an old-school sprawling proposal drawn up outside the public process by a lobbying group favoring development interests. 

This latter proposal earmarked far more land for development than the county says it needs, echoing outdated and oversized growth area boundaries from the housing bubbles of past decades. It also resurrected the Cross County Connector, a proposed road that landed Mattawoman Creek on American Rivers Most Endangered List in 2009 (in a major victory for clean water, permits for that roadway were denied by the Corps in 2012).

Through the tireless efforts of thousands of county residents, many of that lobbying group's proposals were rolled back by a unanimous County Commissioner vote April 29--a welcome change from a three-member majority that had consistently voted against stronger protections for Mattawoman Creek. 

We hope that vote sticks. Just a few weeks later, those same three commissioners were talking about spending $1 million in county funds to study options for reviving the Cross County Connector.

The bottom line is this: The commissioners need to take Mattawoman Creek out of their long-range plans for future growth. Because whether the sprawling growth strategy currently in place is driven by developer interests, or inertia, or even good intentions, the result will doom Mattawoman Creek to the same tragic condition as many other rivers in urbanized America. Charles County--and every one of our rivers--deserves better.

—Erik Fisher, CBF's Maryland Land Use Planner

Click here to take action to protect the lands, waters, and quality of life in Charles County!

Local Governments Set Pollution-Busting Examples

The following originally appeared in Bay Journal News Service yesterday.

Riparian Park plantingA community riparian park planting. Photo by CBF Staff. 

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation's 2012 State of the Bay Report tells us the health of the Chesapeake Bay has improved 14 percent since 2008. But that doesn't tell the whole story.

Throughout Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia, we hear about local governments, businesses, and citizens rolling up their sleeves to reduce pollution from all sectors--agriculture, sewage treatment plants, and urban and suburban runoff. They are working to restore local rivers and streams. That is the goal of the federal/state Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint (formally known as the TMDL and State Watershed Implementation Plans). The Blueprint, if fully implemented with programs in place by 2025, will restore clean water throughout the Chesapeake's 64,000 square mile watershed.

Examples abound.

In south-central Pennsylvania, Warwick Township's citizens—farmers,  school children, businessmen, civic groups, and the township board of supervisors—pitched in to implement a comprehensive watershed management plan for Lititz Run.

Building on stream restoration efforts started in the early 1990s, Girl Scouts turned old barrels into rain barrels, and in turn homeowners used the devices to reduce stormwater flow. Every industrial park in the township modified its stormwater system to reduce runoff. The township preserved 20 farms and 1,318 farm acres from future development using "Transferable Development Rights." Eagle Scouts placed "No Dumping, Drains to the Stream" signs on all the storm drains in the township.

The Result: Lititz Run has been re-designated by the State as a cold-water fishery and now supports a healthy brook trout population.

Just a little south of Lititz, the Lancaster City government is making significant investments in green infrastructure. The green roofs, porous pavers in alleyways, rain barrels, and other innovative technologies put in place there will absorb rainwater instead of allowing it to run off carrying pollution to the Conestoga River. Not only will water quality be improved, but these actions will improve the quality of life for all residents.

In Maryland, Harford, Somerset, and Wicomico counties decided to better manage sprawl to reduce associated water and air pollution and preserve their rural character.

In the small town of Forest Heights, Md., Mayor Jacqueline E. Goodall wants local government to lead by example. Town stormwater drains into Oxon Run, which in turn flows to the polluted Potomac River. So the town recently installed new bio-retention ponds, a cistern, and three 250-gallon rain barrels at the town administration building. Previously, the town had installed a vegetated green roof on the building, as well as solar panels, and energy-efficient interior features. Forest Heights actively sought grants for the latest project, reducing the overall cost 90 percent. Now, the town is encouraging its 2,400 residents to do their part: limit car washing and pesticide spraying, install rain barrels, and take other measures.

And Talbot County, Md., has undertaken an innovative pilot program to use existing farm and street ditches to purify runoff. County-wide, this strategy could save tens of millions of dollars.

In Virginia this year, the Governor and legislature allocated $216 million in new funds for local water improvement efforts, the largest investment in clean water in years. This investment will pay for upgrading wastewater treatment plants, improving stormwater runoff controls, and reducing combined sewer overflows. These actions will help produce healthier streams and rivers across the Commonwealth, stimulate local economies, and help Virginia meet its 2017 Chesapeake Bay cleanup goals.

Falls Church, Va., officials reduced the initial cost estimates for improving stormwater management by 60 percent through the use of "green infrastructure." And in Charlottesville, Va., city officials recognized the damage done by stormwater to the Rivanna River and passed a stormwater fee to aid in restoration.

We hope these actions and the many others like them inspire other local governments, businesses, and individuals to implement the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. It is the right thing to do, and it is the legacy we want to leave for our children and grandchildren.

We're more than halfway to our goal of reducing water pollution. Much work remains, but momentum is building. And each person, business, and locality that takes action increases our ability to finish the job in our lifetime.

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

Smart Growth - Be Heard

As referenced in our September e-newsletter, the Maryland Department of Planing is looking for residents' thoughts and ideas on growth.  Another listening session is scheduled for Oct. 28 at Aberdeen High School. http://www.mdp.state.md.us/listeningsessions.htm

If you haven't been able to attend a session you can still participate by taking the online survey.

So, take the survey and share your thoughts with us, too.

What Will Happen to Mattawoman Creek?

Bass fishermen in Mattawoman Creek. The period for comments on Charles County's proposed Cross County Connector closed yesterday. Thank you to all our members and friends who sent letters urging the wetland permit be denied. For those unfamiliar with the proposed highway project, Charles County would like to build a $60 million roadway connecting the malls in Waldorf with thousands of new houses planned in the Bryans Road area. The problem? The project would destroy dozens of acres of forests and wetlands in the Mattawoman Creek watershed.

Mattawoman Creek wanders for 20 miles through the forests and wetlands of Southern Maryland, from Prince George’s County across Charles County to the Potomac River.

In the springtime, the stream’s shady bends glimmer with golden strands of yellow perch eggs. Fishermen crowd the banks. Bass tournaments draw sportsmen from across the country every year to Sweden Point Marina in Smallwood State Park on the lower Mattawoman.

Herring_in_mattawoman More than 50 species of fish breed in the creek, including rockfish, catfish, bluegill and pumpkinseed sunfish. The creek’s wooded valley also boasts the richest variety of amphibians and reptiles in the state, including marbled salamanders and southern leopard frogs, according to a report by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

Because of its role as an important breeding ground for fish, the Mattawoman Creek has been recognized as “the best, most productive tributary” in the Chesapeake Bay by the state natural resources agency.

But now all of this life – and the sports fishing culture of the whole region – is threatened by the proposed four-lane highway.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation, along with a number of local and statewide organizations, opposes the highway, called the Cross County Connector, because it is the opposite of “Smart Growth.” The road would spur low-density development, roughly one house per acre, in a largely forested area, away from established cities and towns. All the construction would create runoff pollution that will imperil an important watershed with exceptional biodiversity and biological productivity.

Kim Coble, Maryland Executive Director of the foundation, wrote to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Maryland Department of the Environment in September 2008 asking them to deny permits to allow Charles County to destroy more than seven acres of wetlands to build the road.

“The loss of these natural filters through construction of the road and subsequent development spawned by construction of the road will result in additional loads of nutrients and sediments into Mattawoman Creek,” Coble wrote.  “Thus, the proposed permit will significantly degrade water quality in violation of the Clean Water Act.”

CBF believes that if the state and federal agencies are to consider granting the permits, the Corps must require a thorough study – called an Environmental Impact Statement – to be conducted. The study should examine how the runoff from the road and housing construction would affect water quality, natural resources and fish in the creek.

So far, Charles County has underestimated how much development – and therefore, how much pollution – would come from the Cross County Connector. 

But even the county’s own documents report that the road will “facilitate” the construction of 1,113 residential units at a density of about one unit per acre and add other developments that are “dependent” on building the road. The actual number of new housing units in the area may be much higher, reflecting the southward march of sprawl from suburban Washington.

The Bay Foundation is not the first organization to come to the conclusion that the county’s development plans in the area around the Cross County Connector would pollute the Mattawoman Creek.

The Corps, in a August 2003 report, said that runoff pollution into the stream would rise by 50 percent by the year 2020 because of all the development planned in the northern section of the county. That would have a “severe” impact on the creek because of all the additional impervious surfaces like blacktop or roofs, according to the Army Corps report.

Experts at the Center for Watershed Protection have demonstrated that covering more than 10 percent of a stream’s watershed with blacktop and other impervious surfaces causes environmental degradation. The 2003 Army Corps report projects impervious surface percentages in the Mattawoman watershed to rise to substantially more than 10 percent.

Charles County, one of the fastest growing jurisdictions in Maryland, has a population of 145,000 and county officials predict that the number will grow by nearly 50 percent by the year 2030. Since the 1990’s, county officials have been trying to direct 75 percent of this growth into a development district that takes up most of the northern section of the county around Mattawoman Creek.

The problem is, the county’s designated growth area is larger than Washington DC in a largely forested area – and it threatens one of the most biologically productive areas in the Bay watershed.  This sensitive area should not be exploited for growth.

The state and county governments have been working in opposite directions around the Mattawoman Creek. Recognizing the stream’s value as a breeding ground for fish and a filter for pollutants that would otherwise run into the Chesapeake Bay, Maryland has purchased or protected about 5,900 acres of land around the creek or in the stream’s watershed in Charles County. The protected lands include the Mattawoman Natural Environment Area, immediately south of the proposed location where the Cross County Connector would be built across Mattawoman Creek.

In 1998, the state, under former Gov. Parris N. Glendening, spent $25 million to buy and preserve 2,225 acres of forested land threatened by a project called Chapman’s Landing near the western end of the proposed Cross County Connector.

Now environmental gains like this – protecting lands that serve as a natural filter for pollutants and habitat for wildlife – are at risk of being overwhelmed by the proposed highway and associated  development.

That’s why CBF has asked the state and federal agencies to deny the permits necessary to build the four-lane highway that would severely damage one of Maryland’s natural treasures – the Mattawoman Creek.

“CBF believes this wetland permit should be denied,” Coble wrote to the government agencies.  “We are not confident that the impacts to the natural resources that will be affected by the current proposal have been adequately quantified, nor avoided or minimized.”   

By Tom Pelton, Senior Writer, CBF
Photos courtesy Mattawoman Watershed Society

Charles County: Stop Sprawl That Threatens the Bay

One of the most fertile fish breeding grounds in the Chesapeake Bay is threatened by a  proposed four-lane highway that would pave wetlands and ignite sprawl in a wooded section of Southern Maryland.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation is urging people to write the Maryland Department of the Environment and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and ask them to deny permits that would allow Charles County to destroy wetlands to build the highway, called the Cross County Connector.

The deadline for public comment is Monday, Sept. 15. Please send a letter now opposing the permit.

The $60 million Cross County Connector would run east-to-west across northern Charles County, replacing dozens of acres of forest with a strip of blacktop as the roadway connects the malls in Waldorf with new subdivisions. 

The massive construction project is the opposite of "Smart Growth," in that homes would be spread out and distant from existing cities or towns. County documents report that the highway will "facilitate" the construction of 1,113 homes at an average density of one acre each, and add other development that is "dependent" on construction of the road.

A preliminary August 2003 report by the Army Corps of Engineers predicted that all the additional blacktop and roofs proposed for the area would have a “severe” impact on the Mattawoman Creek, increasing runoff pollution into the creek by 50 percent.

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources has described the Mattawoman Creek as “the best, most productive tributary in the bay.” More than 50 species of fish, including yellow perch and largemouth bass, breed in the creek, which empties into the Potomac River.

To build the road across Mattawoman Creek, Charles County must first obtain permits from the Maryland Department of the Environment and the Army Corps of Engineers to destroy more than seven acres of wetlands.  The MDE must certify that runoff pollution will not violate water quality standards in the creek.

CBF urges the MDE and the Army Corps to say no and protect not only the creek, but also the quality of life in Southern Maryland -- and the fish that are so vital to the Chesapeake Bay.