Gov. Parris N. Glendening's proposal to further regulate development around Maryland's coastal bays was praised by environmentalists yesterday but denounced by local officials who said the legislation is not necessary.
As one of his top environmental priorities this year, Glendening is proposing to extend the same protections from development to the coastal bays in rapidly growing Worcester County that are in place along the Chesapeake and its tributaries.
It is opposed by landowners and developers who fear it will cripple economic growth, but supporters of the bill told the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee that the bill is needed to preserve the smaller bays.
Worcester County has grown by more than 33 percent in the last decade, and three-quarters of the county's 47,000 people live in the 175-square-mile coastal watershed. "This state's natural resource is jeopardized by continuous growth in this region." said Joseph C. Bryce, Glendening's chief legislative officer.
But Ocean City Mayor James N. Mathias Jr. and two Worcester County commissioners said they are working to protect the waters and that the bill strips local officials of some of their power.
"We have been treated like somebody whose opinion has been disregarded, and our environmental accomplishments have been disregarded." said Mathias, who is asking the legislature to exempt Ocean City from the proposed law.
Glendening's proposal, which would affect Worcester County and the municipalities of Ocean City and Berlin, would create a 100-foot buffer along the coastal bays and their tributaries where development could not occur. It also would restrict development within 1,000 feet of any of the state's five coastal bays and their tributaries.
The proposal would limit new piers over the bays to 25 feet and require local governments to improve their storm water drainage systems.
The plan would apply to all developments not yet approved by local and state planners.
Local officials would have to come up with comprehensive plans for enacting the proposal and submit them to the Critical Areas Commission - whose members are appointed by the governor - for its approval.
Representatives from environmental organizations said a similar proposal enacted in 1984 to protect the Chesapeake Bay has worked and should be expanded to Assawoman, Isle of Wight, Sinepuxent, Newport and Chincoteague bays.
"In 1984, you heard claims this would devastate property owners and destroy growth, and that has not happened." said Theresa Pierno, executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
Mathias and Worcester County Commissioners John E. Bloxom and Jeanne Lynch said they support protecting the bays, but believe more power should remain in the hands of local officials.
Mathias, a Democrat, noted that Ocean City has begun implementing the recommendations of the Maryland Coastal Bays Program, a $6 million state, local and federal plan that was signed with great fanfare in 1999.
The largely volunteer program relies heavily on education programs, incentives and disincentives to prod developers, farmers, homeowners and watermen to take better care of the coastal bays.