The Chesapeake Bay Foundation has launched a $130,000 campaign to stop a 2,700-home resort from being built near the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge on the Eastern Shore.
The campaign, which began last week with ads on radio stations and in newspapers throughout the Baltimore-Washington area, encourages people to sign a petition opposing the development, which is to include a conference center, hotel and golf course in an area that is now largely farmland.
About 5,000 people have signed the petition since the media campaign began, bringing the total number of signatures to nearly 20,000, foundation officials say.
Kim Coble, the group's executive director for Maryland, said she's hoping the petition persuades Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. to intervene to stop the project. Administration officials have said they consider the development to be a local issue and that they have no plans to interfere.
The Blackwater project's supporters say the development could bring new life to Cambridge, a once-busy city that has lost population and jobs in recent decades. Cambridge Mayor Cleveland L. Rippons, whose city annexed the land to make way for the development, said the project would be a huge boost, bringing in $25 million in revenue to Cambridge and Dorchester County.
Opponents say the project will cause irreversible environmental harm.
The foundation says its surveys have shown that the majority of county residents oppose the development, but it maintains that what happens at Blackwater is not just a local issue. Most of the petition signatures came from Marylanders, but about 5,000 came from people in other states, Coble said.
"We are overwhelmed by the response to the petition," she said. "It's pretty clear that it's going to take some leadership from the state to step in and make sure the right action is taken."
The Blackwater development has cleared most of its local hurdles, with the city and county supporting it throughout the process. But the foundation filed suit in Circuit Court against Cambridge and Dorchester County as well as an administrative appeal contending that the project should have never gotten the green light.
The Maryland Critical Area Commission has not voted on the project. But the commission, whose members are appointed by Ehrlich, is considered unlikely to stop the development.
The Blackwater project, which has been in the works for three years, became a major issue in the General Assembly session. A bill introduced by Sen. James Brochin, a Baltimore County Democrat, sought to limit the development but was defeated in the Senate. Project supporters spent about $125,000 on lobbyists to oppose the bill.
Rippons said the developer, Duane E.E. Zentgraf, is spending $1 million to monitor water quality in the Little Blackwater River. He said the foundation would have been better off skipping the ad campaign and spending its money to work with Zentgraf to design the most environmentally sound development possible.
"If the Chesapeake Bay Foundation wishes to fight rather than work together, that's their decision," Rippons said.