Va. governor agrees to sign bay cleanup pact

Accord seeks reduction of sprawl in watershed

May 04, 2000|By Joel McCord | Joel McCord,SUN STAFF

Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore will sign an agreement to clean up the Chesapeake Bay now that language requiring stronger development controls has been massaged to suit him.

Gilmore's office announced yesterday that he would sign Chesapeake 2000, the first major revision of the 1987 Chesapeake Bay agreement, removing the last stumbling block to completing the document.

"All of our partners have worked hard to draft an agreement that is tailored to the unique needs of each of the jurisdictions represented in this watershed agreement," he said.

The draft agreement that officials of Maryland, Pennsylvania, the District of Columbia and the Environmental Protection Agency signed in December called for a 30 percent reduction in the rate at which forests and farms are developed by 2010.

Forests and wetlands are important to the bay because they filter pollutants from runoff. Carol Browner, EPA administrator, called them the kidneys of the bay during the signing ceremony at Arlington Echo outdoor center in Millersville.

The new language in the agreement -- which is to guide restoration of the bay -- calls for reducing the "rate of harmful sprawl development of forests and farmlands in the Chesapeake Bay watershed by 30 percent" by 2012.

The additional two years allow the figures to conform to the National Resource Inventory's cycle of measuring land-use changes.

The new language "commits all the jurisdictions to addressing sprawl" for the first time, said Joe Maroon, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's executive director for Virginia. "Virginia can't just sit on the sidelines," he said.

Virginia argued that the original language, with specific numbers, was tantamount to a state takeover of land use controls that should be left to local governments.

Ron Hamm, Virginia's deputy secretary of natural resources, said yesterday that the amended language was more acceptable because it "refers to the entire watershed" and doesn't put the onus on any of the "signatory jurisdictions."

"That was important," he said.

Michael Schultz, spokesman for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, hailed the announcement as "good news for the bay."

"We don't have any reservations," he said. "The importance of the effort to protect the land and reduce the rate of loss can't be overstated."

The agreement, which is to be signed June 28, calls for the permanent preservation of 20 percent of the three states' open space in the bay watershed, restoration of 25,000 acres of wetlands and the creation of 2,010 miles of stream-side forests.

It also includes goals for reducing air pollution, restoring fish migrations to spawning grounds upriver, managing crab harvests and increasing the oyster population tenfold by 2010.

Virginia and Maryland have embarked on ambitious oyster restoration plans that include creating sanctuaries and building reefs.

Since it was made public in December, the agreement has drawn generally good reviews from the farmers, watermen, conservationists and others who have offered written opinions.

"Almost every response we got began with things like, `We think what's here is good, but it falls short in some ways,' " said Francis H. Flanigan, executive director of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, which tabulated the responses.

The issue of development controls generated the most comments, she said, and most of those called for stricter controls.

"I guess you could interpret that as meaning the public may be ahead of the government folks in recognizing how important the land-use piece is," Flanigan said.

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