Spending bills may yield $400 million for Maryland

Funding moving through Congress includes beach restoration, Hubble


WASHINGTON -- Maryland stands to gain more than $400 million from spending measures moving through Congress this week, from Ocean City beach restoration to additional funding for the Hubble Space Telescope.

More than $60 million for special state initiatives is contained in a $30.5 billion package to fund energy and water programs around the country.

Many of the programs require additional state and local matching funds.

Included is $4.9 million for Ocean City's beaches, which President Bush had proposed cutting. Critics say beach replenishment is wasteful, since it is only a temporary fix.

But Maryland Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, who sits on the Senate Appropriations Committee, which must approve spending measures and has a history of favoring projects in the home states of its members, pushed successfully for the money to be restored.

"It would have been madness not to continue to do the beach restoration, given what's just happened down in New Orleans," said Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, who also favored the additional spending.

The veteran Democrat contended that building up the beach fights erosion, though environmentalists argue it mainly promotes development.

Also included is more than $17 million for dredging in Baltimore Harbor, and another $13.4 million to continue work on the Poplar Island restoration project, which uses silt removed from the harbor to build up the island's shoreline. The legislation also decrees that the project will be named after Sarbanes.

A $57 billion bill that funds the Commerce and Justice departments, as well as a number of science agencies, including the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, contains more than $70 million in Maryland-related projects, along with $271 million for the Hubble - which is managed through Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt.

The spending measures provide $8.25 million to protect and nurture the Chesapeake Bay's oyster population, all but $2 million of it for Maryland's portion of the bay. Another $5 million would go toward efforts to produce and release juvenile blue crabs.

Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, a Democrat from Southern Maryland who sits on the House Appropriations Committee, promoted the Oyster Recovery Project, which also was targeted for deep cuts by the White House.

"We should not be going down the road of eliminating programs that point to success and are addressing serious environmental challenges," Hoyer said.

There are a number of other bay-related projects in the bills, from wetlands restoration to money for land acquisition in the bay's watershed to protect the fragile environment.

"The Chesapeake Bay is part of who we are as Marylanders - our heritage and our culture," said Mikulski, the top Democrat on the Senate panel that crafted the science spending bill.

Mikulski was able to protect two agencies with major holdings in Maryland: the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association and NASA.

Congress is providing $8.5 million for NOAA's Center for Weather and Climate Prediction, which is under construction at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Another $6 million would go to the agency's Oxford Cooperative Laboratory.

Despite cuts in other areas of the budget, NASA will receive all $16.5 billion it asked for, including the $271 million for the Hubble. That's $50 million more than what Bush proposed and would allow the agency to continue work toward a space-shuttle servicing mission for the telescope, one of the pet projects for Mikulski and Hoyer.

The House passed both measures yesterday, and Senate approval could come by the end of the week.


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