Faster wetland action pledged Timetable moved up

efforts to increase acreage to be detailed

'A sense of urgency'

Glendening lauds 'complete reversal' by three states, D.C.

October 31, 1997|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON -- The chief executives of Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia agreed yesterday to speed up their efforts to preserve wetlands and to go beyond the previous policy of holding the line on wetlands losses.

The accord also provides that by next year, the jurisdictions represented on the Chesapeake Executive Council will adopt strategies to ensure that no acre of wetlands is lost without being replaced by an acre of similar ecological value. The plans are also supposed to spell out how the jurisdictions intend to increase their current acreages of protected wetlands.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening hailed the changes as "a complete reversal in philosophy" on wetlands, which serve as filters to help keep pollutants out of the bay.

"It takes us from a policy of 'no net loss' to a strategy on how to recover wetlands that we've lost," said Glendening. He added that there was "more of a sense of urgency" at the annual gathering of the council because of this summer's outbreaks of toxic Pfiesteria in several bay tributaries.

The new strategy was worked out as part of a series of policy resolutions agreed to by Glendening, Virginia Gov. George F. Allen, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, Washington Mayor Marion S. Barry Jr. and federal Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Carol M. Browner.

Among the resolutions was a renewal of the council members' commitment to accelerate efforts they had previously agreed upon to reduce by 40 percent the flow of nutrients into the bay by 2000.

Browner said yesterday that at the current rate, the council would reach that goal for phosphorus but would fall short of the target for nitrogen. But she added that under one of the council's resolutions, the members would consider whether the 40 percent goal set in 1987 is sufficient to restore the bay's health and would set a new goal if necessary.

Glendening, who was elected to replace Browner as chairman of the council yesterday, said he expects Maryland to reach the overall nutrient-reduction goals. In the tributaries, he said, the state expects to meet its goals in nine out of 10 for phosphorus and in eight out of 10 for nitrogen.

The Chesapeake Executive Council is the governing body of the Chesapeake Bay Program, a cleanup effort involving the three states, the District of Columbia and the EPA.

The policy change on wetlands was agreed to behind closed doors after a morning meeting that ran late enough to delay the public afternoon session by an hour.

During the delay, Peter Marx, a spokesman for the EPA, said Browner was pushing the governors to agree to develop wetlands goals immediately -- two years ahead of schedule -- but was meeting resistance.

Just before the public session, the council agreed to a compromise under which the states and the district will set their numerical goals for wetlands reclamation in time for next year's meeting, one year earlier than expected, said Kate Naughten, spokeswoman for the Chesapeake Bay Program.

The goals for developing a quantifiable baywide wetlands strategy and revising state plans to conform to that strategy will be moved up to 1999 and 2000, respectively.

People familiar with the negotiations said Glendening and Ridge backed Browner's two-year proposal but that Allen balked.

Naughten said the agreement strengthens existing goals by specifying that wetlands that replace those lost to development must be of ecological value equal to that of those lost to development.

That provision could be be important because it addresses concerns that some of the artificial wetlands created by developers to fulfill legal requirements are less effective in controlling runoff than the natural ones they replace.

Marx said the resolution to pursue net gains in wetlands is important because the EPA estimates that the bay watershed is still losing 3,000 acres of wetlands a year.

Michael L. Shultz, communications director for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, called the policy change on wetlands "very important."

In another development, Glendening said his administration would soon announce an expanded cover crop program to control winter runoff from farm fields.

He gave no details, but his commission on the Pfiesteria problem was told this week that the $2 million allocated for the program was falling short of demand by about $1.4 million.

Glendening also honored two of the leading researchers into Pfiesteria and its effects.

Dr. J. Glenn Morris, the University of Maryland Medical Center physician who established a tentative link between Pfiesteria toxins and human illness, was named Admiral of the Chesapeake, an honor he shared with JoAnn Burkholder, the North Carolina State University researcher who originally identified Pfiesteria and who has counseled Maryland officials on their response to the problem.

Pub Date: 10/31/97

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