Watershed cleanup pact renewed

Baltimore County, city reaffirm their environmental pledge

December 20, 2006|By Rona Kobell | Rona Kobell,Sun reporter

Baltimore City and Baltimore County officials pledged yesterday to protect streams and rivers, signing the Baltimore Watershed Agreement in Towson as about 50 environmental advocates looked on.

The agreement renews a commitment made in 2002 that the city and county would work together to clean up waterways that cross their borders.

Yesterday, government officials and environmental advocates agreed that the first watershed agreement has influenced land-use decisions in the region and prompted watershed groups to work together. They're hoping the new agreement goes a step further by specifically addressing the watershed's five most persistent problems: storm water management, trash, development, public health concerns and a lack of green space.

"The 2002 agreement was not just a piece of paper sitting in a drawer," said Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. "It really forecast the next stage, and here we are."

Over the next year, environmental groups will work with city and county officials to develop specific goals for reducing pollution in three local watersheds: the Jones Falls, the Gwynns Falls, and Herring Run. The agreement calls for an action plan to be in place by 2008.

Signing agreements pledging to protect the Chesapeake Bay is nothing new: Several state and federal documents have outlined promises to reduce pollution in the watershed by a certain year, only to have officials acknowledge later that the goals wouldn't be met.

To show their commitment, Baltimore County officials hired Frances H. Flanigan, a bay activist for more than 25 years, to act as watershed coordinator. Through the Watershed Advisory Group, a consortium of volunteers from different community groups, Flanigan organized conferences where activists could discuss problems and discuss how to finance solutions.

One of the first accomplishments of the partnership was the joint funding by the city and the county of a nine-month Gwynns Falls watershed study. The study looked at erosion and pollution in a system that runs from Glyndon in the county through the city's west side and into the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River. Smith said the county's commitment to protect streams also prompted a decision in October to pay the Country Club of Maryland $2 million to keep 143 acres from being developed for 25 years.

The county also helped a Target store redevelop property in Essex, rather than build elsewhere, and to turn its storm water management pond into a landscaped amenity. Baltimore City, meanwhile, recently announced a goal of doubling its tree canopy in the next 30 years.

"This just allows us to amass all of our environmental projects and coordinate them within the agreement," said Baltimore City Public Works Director George Winfield. "... It's just amazing that we have been able to work together as one."

Phillip Lee, a volunteer with the Baltimore Harbor Watershed Association, said the agreement helped his group connect with other activists who want a "bottle bill," which would offer a refund for recycling in Maryland similar to those in other states. He said he and other watershed activists will push for the bill during the legislative session.

"Before the agreement, everyone was just sort of doing their own thing," Lee said. "You can't solve anything without the organization and the numbers. And this agreement gives us the organization and the numbers."

rona.kobell@baltsun.com

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