Bay advocates want cleanup pledge

Groups in 5 states, D.C. urge newly elected politicians to meet 2010 pollution-reduction goals

November 21, 2006|By Rona Kobell | Rona Kobell,sun reporter

Grass-roots environmental groups from five states and the District of Columbia are urging newly elected political leaders to take seriously the task of cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay or risk losing it forever as a thriving ecosystem.

River-protection advocates representing Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia and Washington, D.C., have signed a Declaration for Our Watersheds, which calls on state and federal officials to honor cleanup commitments outlined in the Chesapeake 2000 agreement. In that agreement, officials pledged to reduce pollution from sewage treatment plants and farm and storm water runoff by 2010.

Many of the pollution-reduction goals are not on pace to be met, mostly because of a lack of money, said David Bancroft, president for the Alliance of the Chesapeake Bay, an advocacy group that organized the declaration. For instance, Bancroft said, states in the watershed have planted only 5,000 miles of riparian forest buffers - far short of the 45,000-mile goal for the bay and its rivers by 2010.

Bancroft said there is no money to pay for the rest of it and, he worries, no inclination to do it. And the more time it takes, he said, the more perilous conditions become for crabs, oysters and other bay life.

"All of these grass-roots groups are concerned," Bancroft said. "They truly believe in the 2000 goals, and they want the leaders to recommit to those goals and put the money on the table so they can fulfill them."

The declaration was unveiled over the weekend at a conference in Shepherdstown, W.Va. That it came out so soon after this month's election is not coincidental. The Chesapeake Executive Council, which includes the governors of Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and the mayor of Washington, sets much of the policy and the funding priorities for bay restoration. All of the leaders who will be on the council in January will have terms extending into 2010, the year by which the bay was supposed to be restored.

New to the council will be Maryland's governor-elect, Martin O'Malley, and Washington's mayor-elect, Adrian M. Fenty. Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell won his re-election bid, and Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine's term will end in January 2010. Bancroft is hoping to secure 100 more signatures before he delivers the declaration to council members in January.

Matthew Logan, president of the Potomac Conservancy, was one of the first to sign on. The river his group is charged with protecting runs through rural West Virginia, urban Washington and fast-developing Western Maryland. Logan said he's worried about fish kills in the river, and about sediment that clouds the water after every major rain.

"The issues facing the bay aren't technical problems at this point. They're problems of political will," Logan said. "I don't think any politician wants to be up there and explain to their constituents why they failed to protect this national treasure."

The declaration comes on the heels of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's State of the Bay report, which found slight improvements but still gave the bay failing grades in key areas. Foundation officials also warned that environmentalists will hold government officials accountable in the 2010 elections.

James Curatolo, watershed coordinator for the Upper Susquehanna Coalition, doesn't see the problems that bedevil many of the rivers and streams in Maryland and Virginia. His watershed covers rural Pennsylvania and New York, where water quality is relatively good, population is stable or shrinking and crab cakes are not generally on the menu.

But Curatolo said his group believes that even if the cleanup timetable is not realistic, all of the bay states have to hold elected officials' feet to the fire. "They're definitely not going to clean up the bay by 2010. Everyone knows that," he said. "But they have to shoot high. There's a tremendous amount that needs to be done."

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