Md. to review enforcement in environmental cases

April 13, 2007|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,Sun reporter

Maryland's environment agency is reviewing hundreds of past wetlands and pollution complaints after discovering that officials waited nearly a year to make an Eastern Shore businessman correct a wetlands violation.

"We are really focusing on enforcement because it's a core part of our mission," said Environmental Secretary Shari T. Wilson, who was appointed in January by Gov. Martin O'Malley.

Wilson said she ordered the review of all pending enforcement cases after a citizen complained last week that her agency had failed to force action to fix a problem in Caroline County.

On Feb. 16, 2006, the Maryland Department of the Environment issued a complaint to Fred Hertrich, a car dealer and horse breeder, for allegedly clearing and filling in a 70-acre tract of wetlands in Federalsburg to create pasture for his horse farm.

The state's notice ordered Hertrich to submit to the agency within 30 days a plan to restore the wetlands or else face civil or criminal penalties.

But nearly 10 months later, an inspection found that Hertrich still had not restored the wetlands, devised a plan or even hired an environmental consultant to help him, according to state records.

"He stated, he would decide if it was economically sensible to go forward with the restoration project," a Dec. 8 inspection report says.

The agency again warned that it wasn't up to him - and that he could face prosecution if he did not restore the wetlands. Hertrich promised to hire an environmental consultant to address the problem within a week, the state report says.

But another inspection, on Dec. 21, revealed that Hertrich still had not hired a consultant or fixed the problem, the state report said.

Hertrich did not return a phone call yesterday seeking comment.

Wilson said yesterday that her agency referred the case to the Maryland attorney general's office for possible legal action. Raquel Guillory, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Douglas Gansler, said the office is reviewing the case.

Wilson said she doesn't know what her agency's track record was in enforcing wetlands regulations during the previous administration.

Over the next month, the MDE will review all of its open complaints, including hundreds of wetlands, water pollution and other cases, to make sure none of them is being neglected.

"Either it's a very isolated incident that fell through the cracks or we don't have the necessary standard operating procedures in place and we need to make a systematic change," Wilson said. "Or it's a resource issue where we are stretched too thin."

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