Plan seeks clean bays

Coastal waterways target of $6 million state, federal program

`It's a bottom-up approach'

Campaign to educate residents on ways to better care for waters

June 30, 1999|By Joel McCord | Joel McCord,SUN STAFF

OCEAN CITY -- Gov. Parris N. Glendening and a half-dozen federal, state and local officials signed a $6 million plan yesterday to clean up Maryland's threatened coastal bays over the next 10 years.

The 175-page blueprint for the management and conservation of Assawoman, Isle of Wight, Sinepuxent and Chincoteague bays is largely voluntary. It relies heavily on education programs, incentives and disincentives to prod developers, farmers, homeowners and watermen to take better care of the waters between the barrier islands and the Eastern Shore.

"It's a bottom-up approach," said David Wilson, outreach director of the Maryland Coastal Bays Program. "We believe we give people the education they need and let them impose the laws they need."

One section of the plan calls for developing "educational materials" explaining the impact of automobiles on air quality and the importance of mass transit, energy conservation and alternative energy sources. Another section calls for incentives for homeowners and developers to grow buffers of native vegetation near waterways and to establish erosion-control guidelines.

The plan, unveiled at Macky's Bayside restaurant on Isle of Wight Bay, also takes into account the concerns of business owners in Worcester County, where the tourist industry generates $2 billion annually.

"We reject the false dichotomy of environment and economy," Glendening said at the ceremony. "We must recognize that the environment and the economy are inextricably linked, and if we ignore the economy we have no jobs."

The plan includes a combination of channel improvements and dredging proposals to make navigation on the coastal bays easier, along with proposals to create sanctuaries for fish and also creel limits for recreational fishermen.

It also establishes a nonprofit foundation to oversee implementation of the plan.

The state has included $1.5 million for the initial phase of the program, "and it probably will become a line item in our budget," Glendening said.

The rest of the money will come from federal and local sources. Ocean City and Worcester County would kick in a total of about $500,000, Wilson said. In addition, local businesses have set up donation boxes for tourists to contribute to the program.

Macky Stansell, who has been active in the Coastal Bay Program and whose restaurant at 54th Street and the bay was used for the ceremony, said he raised about $400 in his donation box last year.

"It's mostly to raise awareness. If something happens out here," he said, waving toward the water, "I'm out of business."

The 175-square-mile watershed of the coastal bays contains 108 rare, threatened and endangered species. While the southern bays, Sinepuxent and Chincoteague, remain relatively healthy, Assawoman and Isle of Wight to the north have been damaged by runoff from development, which has reduced the diversity of fish, slowed the return of bay grasses and increased levels of chemicals in the water.

Interest in the Coastal Bays Program was spurred by a 1996 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency study showing that those shallow waterways in Maryland and Delaware suffered more damage from farming and development than did the Chesapeake Bay. Adding to concerns are projections that Worcester County's population of 40,000 will more than double over the next 30 years.

The Maryland Coastal Bays Program, one of five similar efforts financed by grants from the EPA, has operated on a $300,000 annual budget. It is one of only two plans that have been finished, said Stan Leskowski, the EPA's representative at the ceremony.

"This plan has the potential to be the shining light for the rest of the country," he said.

The plan, touted as the coastal bays' version of the Chesapeake Bay Agreement, was developed by more than 200 Worcester County residents, including developers, homeowners, farmers, watermen and environmentalists who have been working since 1996. It includes something for everybody but has elements some groups might not be happy with, Wilson said.

Virgil Shockley, a Worcester County commissioner who farms 350 acres near Snow Hill, was annoyed that there was no requirement for golf courses to control fertilizer runoff.

"When they put three to four times the amount of fertilizer on their golf courses as I put on my cornfield, there ought to be some controls," he said.

The plan also lacks an integral part of the Chesapeake Bay plan -- a 100-foot buffer around the water's edge where development would be prohibited. Instead, there are proposals that would allow local groups to set buffers that could be as narrow as 30 feet or as wide as 100 feet.

Drafting the plan was "a consensus-building thing," Wilson said. "The pressure was substantial to have a 100-foot buffer. But we were concerned that if we called for a 100-foot buffer, the rest of the plan would be ignored."

The plan contains a provision that allows the Maryland Department of Natural Resources to impose restrictions if there is not significant progress within two years.

Highlights of the plan include:

Spending more money to help farmers reduce runoff of the fertilizers that increase nutrients in the water.

Identifying properties in Worcester County, Ocean City and Berlin with failing storm-water management systems and finding the money to fix them.

Coordinating programs to protect certain wildlife species.

Upgrading sewage-pumping and oil-recycling facilities in marinas.

Pub Date: 6/30/99

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