Corps of Engineers gives Md. more authority over wetlands State to play greater role in deciding fate of acreage

June 19, 1996|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,SUN STAFF

In an effort to cut red tape, federal and state officials announced yesterday that Maryland will be given greater power to regulate building or farming in the state's 600,000 acres of tidal and fresh-water wetlands.

The Army Corps of Engineers has taken action that will allow the Department of the Environment to handle most of the 4,300 requests filed each year to alter wetlands, which soak up pollutants, help control floods and provide habitat for fish and wildlife.

The action reduces the roles of the corps, which regulates wetlands under federal law, the Environmental Protection Agency and two other federal agencies in reviewing wetlands applications. The corps has given similar authority to more than a dozen states.

Builders and farmers have long complained about lengthy delays in getting permits approved and about overlapping and conflicting federal and state restrictions.

"We can't afford to be doing things repetitively or redundantly," said Col. Randall R. Inouye, chief of the Baltimore district office of the corps, noting that federal agency budgets have been slashed. "We need to streamline the process."

Requests to disturb fewer than 5 acres of freshwater wetlands or fewer than 3 acres of tidal wetlands will be handled solely by the state, as long as the actions would have minimal impact on the environment. If the size or the impact is greater, a request would be subject to joint review by federal and state regulators.

Jane T. Nishida, Maryland's environment secretary, said the move is in line with Gov. Parris N. Glendening's push for "common-sense reforms" in regulations and would not compromise environmental protections.

Lawrence R. Liebesman, a lawyer representing the Maryland Builders Association, said developers hope for speedier and simpler permit handling.

Environmentalists complained that the arrangement gives Maryland far more latitude than other states to allow wetlands losses without federal or public review.

Pub Date: 6/19/96

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