Bay cleanup gets words, no frills Schaefer calls for renewed efforts, belt-tightening.

June 04, 1991|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,Evening Sun Staff

How do you clean up Chesapeake Bay on a shoestring?

If you're Gov. William Donald Schaefer, you announce a 14-point program to save the bay that tries to make the most of what the state is already doing. You also rely more than ever before on the kindness -- and free help -- of volunteers.

Schaefer was scheduled to unveil his 1991 bay agenda today at Quiet Waters Park near Annapolis, an $18 million recreational complex that belies the no-frills nature of the state's campaign this year to restore the bay.

With environmental programs suffering the same belt-tightening as the rest of the state budget, Schaefer's aides have concocted a "less-is-more" plan for cracking down on pollution, protecting wildlife and curbing growth in Maryland.

"We cannot let tough budget times be an excuse for not continuing our progress," Schaefer said in a prepared statement. "We must be smarter and more resourceful to make our dollars go the extra mile to restore the bay."

Highlights of the program include:

* An effort to cut in half the number of small sewage treatment plants that are violating pollution laws.

* Use of sand and mud dredged from shipping channels in the bay to create new wetlands and coves for fish and waterfowl.

* A federally funded project to build up underwater reefs for oysters and clams.

* Greater efforts to involve the public, particularly minorities, in bay restoration work and the debate over how to manage growth and development.

It was not officially part of the program, but a Schaefer spokesman indicated the governor has buried the hatchet with legislative leaders who derailed his growth-management bill this year after county officials, farmers and developers objected.

The governor has directed his staff to work with legislators who plan to begin reviewing the controversial issue this summer, says Thomas Burke, chief of the governor's Chesapeake Bay communica tions office.

Details of the study, such as whether to strive for legislation next year or in 1993, have yet to be set, but until recently, Schaefer's willingness to cooperate was not certain.

"Two months ago, there was a real question whether we'd be asked [to join the study] and if asked, whether we would participate," noted an administration official.

Many of the 1991 bay initiatives, organized around four broad themes, are extensions and refinements of efforts already under way.

For instance, the Maryland Department of the Environment will seek 95 percent compliance with pollution laws from more than 300 small municipal sewage treatment plants and industrial facilities that discharge into streams emptying into the bay.

State officials had focused last year on improving compliance among the 30-some major municipal sewage plants, which each discharge more than 1 million gallons of treated wastewater daily. The small plants account for less than 10 percent of the wastewater discharged into the bay, but they can have a big impact on the water quality of streams into which they empty.

State environmental officials say that 90 percent of the smaller facilities already are in compliance. But there are some notable exceptions, such as the Montgomery County town of Poolesville, which has continued to violate its discharge limits over the past year despite an unusual $28,500 fine imposed by the state.

The governor's program pledges to increase monitoring of such problem plants and to provide technical assistance and funding to them "where possible," an apparent reference to the state's limited fiscal power this year.

State environmental officials aim to reduce the impact of air borne pollutants, prompted by estimates that between 25 and 40 percent of the nitrogen entering the bay comes from such sources as automobile and power plant emissions and wind-blown fertilizers. But the governor has not committed to any specific legislation, such as the bill defeated this year that would have required that less polluting cars and trucks be sold in Maryland.

State natural resources officials also are belatedly making good on a pledge to restore some of the underwater reefs on which oysters once thrived in the bay. Promised for last year in the oyster management plan that was adopted as part of the multistate 1987 bay agreement, the restoration could begin this year with federal funds.

State officials hope to work more closely with private industry in preventing pollution in the first place, particularly in reducing nutrient runoff from agricultural and developed land. Such "public-private partnerships" also are referred to in plans to set aside more private land for wildlife habitat.

Environmentalists who were briefed on the governor's bay agenda in advance praised it, saying they thought Schaefer was doing the best he could in a lean year.

"It's not the much-needed infusion of money; it's not mandating clean cars," said one environmental leader, who asked not to be named. But the activist added that "given what they had to work with, there's some good elements."

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