A lesson from two streams

ON THE BAY

Ecology: Richard Klein shows how development alters the ecosystem, and how people can work to mitigate those impacts.

March 28, 2003|By Tom Horton | Tom Horton,SUN STAFF

SOME 20 springs ago, a young, self-taught biologist named Richard Klein led one of those rare field trips that, in a few hours, inspires and informs for the rest of one's life.

By a forest brook in Baltimore County, he demonstrated how rainfall, filtered and percolated through the leafy canopy and the deep duff of the forest floor, mostly soaked into the water table -- rather than blasting erosively downstream.

In contrast, a hundred times as much of the same rainfall gushed off the paved watershed of our next stop, an urban stream. Very little soaked in to feed the city stream through seeps and springs during dry weather.

It meant that come storm or drought, the sylvan stream flowed cool and steady, while its city cousin yawed between rage and trickle. The difference was that there were trout in the county, vs. a few pollution-hardy minnows in the city, Klein explained.

On waterways between these two extremes, he showed how the whole diversity of aquatic life declined -- like a symphony degrades toward monotone when notes are removed -- as development progressively altered their watersheds.

Klein had lost the stream where he used to play growing up around Parkville -- he lost White Marsh Run to White Marsh Mall, which traded the music of life for diversity of shopping (12 stores selling shoes alone when it opened).

But from such losses, he fashioned environmental gains for the whole state.

No one does this better than Klein, which is why I'm unabashedly plugging his latest effort.

SOS program

During the 1970s and 1980s, as a low-level and underappreciated state environmental employee, he almost single-handedly put together a statewide Save Our Streams program.

Working largely on his own time, he also was a key player in passage of Maryland's storm water management program, which moderates development's impact on streams. It's regarded as one of the nation's best.

Since 1987 he has run his own consulting company, Community and Environmental Defense Services (CEDS), a for-profit enterprise that works almost exclusively with residents and neighborhoods concerned about threats to their local environment.

These days, CEDS takes on about 200 cases a year in Maryland and across the country. It wins about 75 percent of the time, Klein says.

Win-wins

He is proud that among the wins, the great bulk are "win-wins, where the citizens and the developer both get what they need."

It's common for callers who seek out CEDS to point to a litany of concerns that ends with, "This is why we want to stop the project," Klein says.

He usually replies: "If I lived in your neighborhood and faced all those impacts, I'd want to stop it, too. But it will cost hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars to kill, and you'll probably face other development proposals for the same tract every few years."

Usually, Klein says, communities can resolve their real concerns without long and expensive fights to the death with developers.

A good starting point for community groups is a free copy of How to Win Land Development Issues, Klein's most recent publication.

Derived from CEDS' substantial experience, its 100 pages are a superb guide to evaluating a development's impact and find the tools available to citizens for resolving the issues.

With facts and examples, it covers issues that include odor, noise, traffic, school overcrowding, crime and open space loss. Whatever the concerns, Klein has been there and found out what works and what doesn't.

Developers could benefit from this publication, too. In most cases, when CEDS stops a project, Klein says it's because the developer refuses to negotiate.

The book is a how-to guide, and not an environmental treatise, although Klein, as chairman of the Sierra Club's Greater Baltimore Group, knows the big picture well.

More inspectors

What Maryland's environmental programs need most, he says, are more inspectors and better enforcement. "I'd like to see counties tie the number of building permits to the number of inspection personnel," he says.

The book offers practical advice on dealing with local officials who rule on a development project. Having worked in all 50 states, Klein says Maryland is relatively good about allowing citizen participation, and Baltimore County is among the best.

He says the great majority of community concerns he handles are resolved for about $1,000. (He charges $90 an hour, with a free initial consultation).

Win-win solutions can be as simple as mandating speed bumps to allay traffic concerns from a development, or changing the access point for a new road. But even if you can't manage a win-win, Klein says, it's always worth pursuing.

"It makes your next step, stopping the development, seem more reasonable and supportable," he explains.

You can download How To Win Land Development Issues free from www.ceds.org. For a print copy, send $27 to Richard D. Klein, 8100 Greenspring Valley Road, Owings Mills 21117.

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