Farmers, environmentalists and the public will get their chance starting next week to voice their opinions on the proposed regulations stemming from one of the hotly debated pieces of legislation in the 1998 General Assembly -- the so-called "Pfiesteria bill."
After nearly a year of work, the Maryland Department of Agriculture has released a draft of nutrient-management regulations developed to implement the requirements of the Water Quality Improvement Act of 1988.
The department has scheduled six regional meetings over a 16-day period to collect public opinion on the regulations.
Agriculture Secretary Henry A. Virts said the department will accept additional written comments for 30 days after the hearings end, until July 9.
Virts said it is important for the agricultural community as well as the public to represent their views on the proposed regulations. "We want this to be a totally open process," he said.
The department doubled the number of scheduled meetings after members of the Agricultural Commission complained to Virts last week that holding only three hearings would make it difficult for people from certain parts of the state to attend.
"This is important to farmers and we need more meetings," Hank Passi of North East told Virts. "Three won't do it. We need meetings in other parts of the state." Passi represents horticulture on the 23-member advisory commission.
The legislation is aimed at combating Pfiesteria in Maryland waters by reducing pollution coming from the land. The proposed regulations require mandatory controls on farm nutrient runoff. Farmers applying animal manure on their fields have until Dec. 31, 2001, to develop a nutrient-management plan that has to be implemented a year later.
The first meeting will be in Easton on Tuesday at the Talbot County Community Center, Hog Neck Arena, 10028 Ocean Gateway. The dates for other sessions:
* Wednesday at Hagerstown Community College, Room CLR111, 11400 Robinwood Drive.
* June 2, at Prince George's Government Center, County Council room, 14741 Governor Oden Bowie Drive, Upper Marlboro.
* June 3, at Salisbury State University, Holloway Hall.
* June 8, Harford Community College, Room E-132, 401 Thomas Run Road.
* June 9, Westminster High School, 1225 Washington Road.
All meeting are scheduled to run from 7 p.m. until 9 p.m. They will consist of brief presentations, a question-and-answer period and opportunity for public comment.