EPA lobbies for monitoring program

January 18, 1993|By John A. Morris | John A. Morris,Staff Writer

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has urged the county to continue financing a grass-roots program to monitor the health of Chesapeake Bay tributaries threatened by the shrinking of the county government.

"Monitoring the county's waterways and shorelines is like keeping track of your bank balance," Joseph Macknis, coordinator of the EPA's Chesapeake Bay monitoring program, urged in a Jan. 7 memo to County Executive Robert R. Neall.

"An investment of a few thousand dollars is . . . a real bargain, with rewards many times the original investment," he wrote.

The county's program provides valuable information about the "near shore" environment and tributaries that the federal program cannot, Mr. Macknis said in an interview.

The county spends about $6,000 annually providing neighborhood volunteers with equipment to monitor water quality on the Severn and Magothy rivers and other tributaries not watched by the EPA.

But if Mr. Neall cuts the program as part of his plans to reduce the size of county government, he may severely limit scientists' ability to target other bay cleanup efforts to areas with the worst water quality, Mr. Macknis said.

Anne Arundel, with 432 miles of shoreline, the most in Maryland, has an economic as well as environmental stake in the bay, he added.

County spokeswoman Louise Hayman said Mr. Neall has not decided whether to cut the program. She said the county Office of Planning and Zoning may recommend eliminating it if the executive pushes for deep cuts in the agency's annual budget.

"The program is not that expensive," Ms. Hayman conceded. "But it is not as important as police or fire protection."

Mr. Neall announced Wednesday a major reorganization of the county agencies that also could affect the decision. Under the plan, the Office of Planning and Zoning would be merged with the Department of Inspections and Permits.

That could mean layoffs as well as management changes. Ms. Hayman said Robert J. Dvorak, who would head the new agency, would review any budget recommendations before Mr. Neall receives them.

Jim Martin, president of the Severn River Association, said he fears that county planners who coordinate the monitoring program could be among those laid off.

"Bob Neall seems as eager to crunch people as he is to crunch numbers," said Mr. Martin, whose group represents more than 100 neighborhoods around the river. "[The monitoring program] is the wrong place to cut."

Mr. Macknis of the EPA, who was alerted by volunteers on the Magothy River that the county program could be lost, said he was pleased to learn Friday that the executive had not made any decision.

"We have a chance to have an impact," Mr. Macknis said. "Sometimes a program may be good, but it can be cut if no one stands up for it."

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