The Environmental Protection Agency approved a $200,000 grant yesterday for a study of Maryland's coastal bays and devising a management action plan addressing ecological threats -- including pollution and development -- that they face.
The funding was awarded jointly to the Maryland Department of the Environment and the University of Maryland.
The coastal bays -- Assawoman, Isle of Wight, Sinepuxent and Chincoteague -- have witnessed intense development in recent years that has included construction of several golf courses and numerous boat slips, houses, condominiums and mobile home sites.
This has caused concern among environmentalists and local community organizations calling for stringent development controls to limit growth in the areas. Without such controls, these groups fear that the fishing industry will decline and wildlife will be harmed.
In addition, there is concern that with the increased development, extra demand for drinking water could lead to excess pumping of ground water. That in turn could cause saltwater to be sucked in, contaminating freshwater aquifers.
"The major problem is that the Chesapeake Bay has been protected by the critical areas legislation by the state. Consequently, with the coastal bays unprotected, the tendency was for developers to go to the least-regulated area," said Frank Gunion, an Ocean City merchant and president of the Worcester County Citizens Coalition.
"Our group's major objective is to protect the environmental integrity of the bay and its watershed. And in reality that means that we're going to have to change the way things are done," Mr. Gunion said.
He welcomed the proposed study because it will go beyond merely looking at the problem.
"I'm very optimistic about it because it clearly asks for a management plan and that's what we need," Mr. Gunion said.
Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, D-Md., who supported the grant, said the coastal bays and their tributaries are showing increasing signs of stress.
"There is a clear need for a thorough assessment of the water quality conditions, physical characteristics and living resources of the coastal bays in order to accurately identify the sources of the problems and to develop long-term management strategies," Senator Sarbanes said.
The EPA-funded study will complement a comprehensive water resources study of the Atlantic coastal areas of Maryland by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that was approved by a Senate committee earlier this year, Mr. Sarbanes said.