TODDVILLE -- GOP congressional candidate Wayne T. Gilchrest embraced the most contentious issue on the Eastern Shore yesterday: non-tidal wetlands.
The Kent County Republican outlined an environmental plan that included calls for reduced development and the creation of "guidelines" for building in rural areas.
"With responsible planning, there is no reason why the communities of the 1st District cannot experience economic growth while at the same time preserving our children's future," said Mr. Gilchrest, following a tour of a nearby seafood processing plant with local landowners and watermen.
Under what he called his "comprehensive" plan for preserving the Chesapeake Bay and the environment, Mr. Gilchrest suggested that new developments on open fields or pastures should have no more than 50 percent of the land consumed by streets or lots.
Mr. Gilchrest said those figures should not be considered firm but were "suggestions" for debate.
The candidate's plan also calls for the state to establish a "center for rural Maryland," which would develop guidelines for rural development by employing regional planning and landscape architecture.
Mr. Gilchrest said the state could possibly handle this task through its existing agencies.
Mr. Gilchrest said both measures were necessary because of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' decision that it would no longer regulate certain non-tidal wetlands that had been farmed before December 1985, freeing up for development as much as 700,000 acres of Eastern Shore farmland.
The non-tidal wetlands issue has been one of the most contentious on the shore, with environmentalists saying preservation of the wetlands is necessary to filter pollutants from the bay.
Landowners and developers, on the other hand, say that many of the non-tidal areas are wetlands in name only and have been farmed for generations.
Mr. Gilchrest said the proposal was worked out with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and other environmentalists.
The GOP candidate, who is running against Representative Roy P. Dyson, said he would tout his plan throughout the district to business leaders and community groups.
"I'm sure they could live with it," said J. C. Tolley, president of Meredith & Meredith Inc., a seafood processing plant here, who told Mr. Gilchrest that the Corps of Engineers was too restrictive with its permits. "Everybody wants open space -- that's why they're here."
"Certainly, in concept those might be very good ideas," said Frances Flanigan, executive director of the Alliance for the Chesapeake, a coalition of environmental, business and farm groups.
But Margaret Ann Reigle, founder of Fairness to Land Owners Committee, said neither idea from the Gilchrest camp was necessary.
The state's critical-areas law curbs development and takes landscaping into consideration, she said. "We do not need another guideline."
Although both issues appear to be ones that would be decided at the local and state level and not on Capitol Hill, Mr. Gilchrest said that "as a federal person, I would like to be involved in the process."
The Gilchrest plan also urges the federal government to take stronger action on Chesapeake Bay pollution, such as curbing agricultural runoff and reducing airborne toxic materials.
Mr. Dyson, the Democratic incumbent, has introduced a bill that would divide wetlands into categories and ease building restrictions on the smaller parcels.