People ignore their own role in fouling bay, survey finds Most people ignore their own role in fouling bay, survey finds.

October 24, 1991|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,Evening Sun Staff

Most Baltimore-area residents just don't get it when it comes to fixing blame for polluting Chesapeake Bay, says a public opinion survey released today.

A majority of 2,500 area residents surveyed said industrial dumping, commercial ships and farm runoff contribute "a great deal" to the bay's woes, according to the poll, which was conducted last spring by the University of Baltimore Schaefer Center for Public Policy in cooperation with the Baltimore Regional Council of Governments.

Less than half of those questioned saw their own sewage, trash dumping and boating as big problems, and two out of three contended that what they do around their homes does very little to dirty the bay. "While each individual may not have a large impact on pollution, experts generally agree that the sum of individual activities is a bigger source of bay pollution than industrial and municipal discharges," says the survey.

"It seems that message is not getting across as clearly as people might have hoped," said Don Haynes, an associate government professor at UB and the survey's co-author.

The survey results did not surprise Tom Burke, director of the governor's Chesapeake Bay Communications Office, which coordinates the state's efforts to educate and involve the public in the bay cleanup.

"People around the bay are talking about, 'It's industry's fault, it's business' fault, toxics are going into the bay.' People don't know that toxics are coming off their lawns," Burke said.

The apparent disparity between the public and specialists on the causes of the bay's pollution emerged in telephone interviews trying to assess Baltimore-area residents' views on environmental issues. The survey results, some of which mirror earlier polls, have been given to government leaders.

Other major findings are:

* Strong support exists for environmental protection, including additional controls on development.

* Three out of four people said they support spending more money for recycling and trash disposal, and more than 60 percent said they already do some recycling. Sixty percent also said they would switch from twice-weekly trash pickup to once a week if it would save costs, which the survey suggests is an inexpensive way to expand recycling.

* Despite a professed willingness to spend more for recycling, Baltimore-area residents were less enthusiastic about paying new state taxes to fund cleanup of the bay. Forty-nine percent favored the new tax, while 33 percent opposed and 14 percent were neutral.

Nevertheless, the survey's authors say they think that is a fairly good show of support.

While the vast majority of Baltimore-area residents say a clean environment is important to their "quality of life," it seems that other issues, such as fighting drugs and crime, improving the schools and holding down taxes are more pressing right now, especially in the city.

More than 90 percent of those surveyed think the environment is important to them, but it was only the fifth most frequently mentioned problem facing the region.

In the counties, the environment ranked at or near the top of concerns. And another question on the survey revealed that nearly three out of four think protecting the environment is more important than other issues facing Maryland.

Sixty-two percent of those surveyed said they did not think the state's laws go far enough to protect the bay, and 85 percent favored new laws to protect land around the bay and rivers from development -- an apparent show of support for the growth-management legislation the Schaefer administration is trying to get through the General Assembly. The governor's bill was tabled, and a joint legislative committee is now studying the issue.

About 60 percent of those surveyed said population growth in the Baltimore region is a "serious" or "very serious" problem, but only about 38 percent thought it was a problem in their own community.

Still, nearly two-thirds of those asked said they favored limiting growth in their communities, with support as high as 80 percent among residents of Carroll, Harford and Howard counties, which have had rapid development in recent years.

Those surveyed were almost evenly split on whether current government controls on growth in their communities were adequate, with 49 percent saying they were not strict enough and 46 percent rating them about right. And, 60 percent favored letting local government handle growth, compared with only 25 percent who wanted to see the state take a more active role.

A sizable majority favored new environmental laws -- 79 percent liked laws limiting development in "certain areas" and 73 percent backed laws preserving farmland. And 88 percent supported stiffer penalties for those who violate land use controls.

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