3 dozen ideas for financing the bay cleanup

January 14, 1995|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,Sun Staff Writer

Want to adopt a blue crab?

How about buying "Chesapeake Bay bonds" for restoring polluted streams?

Or, consider this hot new investment tip: municipal sewage treatment plants in need of an overhaul.

Those are among three dozen ideas for financing the bay cleanup contained in a report released yesterday by a "blue ribbon panel" appointed by Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

With the political tide running against government regulation and taxes, the panel has come up with "a menu, not a mandate" for keeping the bay restoration effort going, according to its chairwoman, Harford County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann.

About $200 million already is spent annually on the restoration in Maryland, but state officials project that a additional $60 million a year will be needed to clean up the troubled estuary by the end of the decade.

The panel says existing cleanup funds can be stretched by reorganizing and redirecting state and local environmental programs. But that alone will not be enough, say many officials.

More money could be raised by forming "public-private partnerships," by selling off sewage plants and pipelines and by levying new fees and "surcharges," or taxes.

Governor Schaefer and Gov.-elect Parris N. Glendening praised the report at a State House news conference, and Mr. Glendening pledged his commitment to saving the bay, which he called the state's second greatest asset, after its people.

But the governor-elect ruled out any tax increases or fees to pay for the restoration effort, at least for now, despite the panel's warning that "business as usual will not get us a cleaner bay."

"The world has changed significantly," Mr. Glendening said, apparently referring to the conservative sweep in November's elections. Government must balance environmental protection with the state's economic needs, he added.

After accelerating in the late 1980s, state spending on the bay cleanup has dwindled in recent years. Though Mr. Schaefer said the state's fiscal outlook was brightening, Mr. Glendening would not say how much money he would budget for the bay cleanup.

"We've got to be very careful," he said, noting that the Republican-led Congress appears poised to slash federal spending. He said he would prefer to raise funds for the bay cleanup through "innovative approaches," but he vowed not to back away from the state's obligations.

Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia have pledged to reduce nutrient pollution of the bay 40 percent by the end of the decade, and three years ago the states expanded their cleanup to include the bay's tributaries, where many fish spawn and spend much of their lives.

The panel recommends stretching existing funds by focusing cleanup efforts on individual bay tributary watersheds, enabling local governments to coordinate and pool their resources.

Though Mr. Glendening said new taxes were out of the question, the report suggests a handful of "surcharges" and fees that could raise enough money to pay for the bay cleanup. Levying an additional half-cent sales tax on prepared food and drinks would yield $40 million a year, for instance, while a 2 percent surcharge on lawn and garden fertilizer would produce up to $3 million a year.

Some recommendations, such as selling "adopt-a-crab" kits or $500 "mini-bonds" for tree plantings and stream restorations, would not raise much money.

Local governments could raise funds by selling off municipal utility "assets" such as water mains and sewage pumping stations or by seeking private investment in treatment plants. A company recently bought a waste treatment plant in Ohio, the report notes, but it adds that "privatization" still faces a number of questions and legal hurdles.

A recommendation already garnering official support is to tap a projected $200 million surplus in a state loan fund for fixing up sewage treatment plants.

William C. Baker, president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said he hoped officials would not rule out anything in trying to restore the bay.

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