Oversight of bay law criticized UM student report finds enforcement lax in many areas

August 15, 1993|By John A. Morris | John A. Morris,Staff Writer

Maryland's nine-year effort to protect the Chesapeake Bay by limiting shoreline development has been undermined by poor enforcement, according to a review by urban planning students at the University of Maryland.

A team of College Park students, who spent the summer studying how the state's Critical Area law is working in Baltimore and four other localities, found a variety of enforcement breakdowns, from unauthorized construction along the city's Inner Harbor to lagging oversight of runoff pollution controls on waterfront farms in Calvert County.

Local officials defended their record, but state officials briefed on the students' review said they would take steps to beef up enforcement of the far-reaching 1984 law, which seeks to regulate construction within 1,000 feet of the bay and the tidal reaches of its river tributaries.

L. Anathea Brooks, part of the team that evaluated the success )) of the shoreline program in Baltimore, said the city planning office apparently does not have enough workers to keep track of waterfront construction.

That allowed the developer of the HarborView condominiums near Federal Hill to build a tennis court along the water without the proper permits or environmental review, Ms. Brooks said.

It also may explain why, despite an agreement between the Maryland Stadium Authority and Baltimore to maintain storm water control ponds around Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Ms. Brooks found one that had failed less than two years after the stadium had opened. The device -- required by environmental rules to reduce the pollution carried by rain into the bay -- at the southeast corner of a 2,500-space parking lot appeared clogged and in disrepair, she said.

Baltimore is not alone in its enforcement woes. Jim Cohen, an instructor with the University of Maryland's Department of Urban Studies and Planning, said his students found similar examples in Calvert, Talbot and Anne Arundel counties and the town of Easton.

In Calvert County, half of the 331 farms in the critical area do not have up-to-date management plans -- required to control the fertilizer, soil and manure running off the land into the water -- because the Soil Conservation District lost its farm planner to budget cuts two years ago, said Ken Hall, one of two graduate students who examined Calvert County's program.

Meanwhile, Anne Arundel planners have granted broad exemptions to the rules in favor of older rules. Under pressure from the Critical Area Commission, the county eliminated those exemptions this month.

Maryland lawmakers passed the Chesapeake Bay Critical Area Protection Act in 1984 to help reverse the bay's decline. The law attempts to minimize the harmful effects of development on a 1,000-foot-wide strip along the bay and its tributaries, directing development into already highly developed areas and setting other undisturbed areas off-limits.

The graduate students presented their preliminary findings to Sarah Taylor, executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Critical Area Commission, and state lawmakers last month. Mr. Cohen said he plans to draft a summary of his students' case studies and present it to state and local officials this summer.

Poor monitoring and enforcement were recurrent themes through the case studies, which also identified weaknesses peculiar to each county, Mr. Cohen said.

The enforcement problem, said graduate student Philip Gottwals, stems from a shortage of staff in the local

governments to monitor construction within the 640,000 acres that make up the state's critical area.

"The report rings true," said Rupert Friday, an environmentalist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. "The counties are faced with a lot of fiscal restraints right now, and if you look at the amount of building in a county like Anne Arundel, I suspect they don't have the people to put out there to enforce it."

Likewise, the students found that the Critical Area Commission, which is charged with monitoring the state's 60 local programs, does not have enough staff to make sure everyone interprets the rules the same way. Ms. Taylor agreed: "There is no way a local government or the seven planners I have can be out and about everywhere."

The students' findings have impressed some lawmakers. State Sen. Bernie Fowler, a Calvert County Democrat, said he expects changes to be proposed during the next General Assembly session to step up enforcement of the critical area rules.

Response to report

"The law is good but I guess adherence to it hasn't been overwhelming," Mr. Fowler said. "These young people have brought some weaknesses to our attention. Hopefully, we'll be able to do something about it."

Ms. Taylor said she already has responded to the report, proposing to Secretary of Natural Resources Dr. Torrey C. Brown that members of the Maryland Natural Resources Police, who already patrol Maryland waters to monitor illegal fishing and boating, be trained to scan the shorelines for potential critical area violations.

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