Gov. Martin O'Malley joined Virginia's governor, federal officials and other state leaders in Baltimore Thursday to unveil a new website for tracking the Chesapeake Bay restoration effort, while declaring that they're finally making headway in jump-starting the lagging cleanup.
"We have seen some progress," O'Malley said after the group met privately at the Inner Harbor campus of the Living Classrooms Foundation, a nonprofit that teaches youngsters about the environment and the city's maritime heritage. "Never as much progress as any of us would like," he added. "But some progress is better than none."
Officials representing the six states that drain into the Chesapeake set last year the first of a series of interim cleanup goals they pledged to reach by the end of next year, with the aim of fully restoring the bay by 2025.
Maryland is "on target" to hit the first of the cleanup "milestones," which are to be renewed every two years, O'Malley said. Although a bid to get farmers to plant more than twice as many pollution-absorbing "cover crops" by 2011 is falling short of expectations, the governor said state officials are accelerating other efforts to close the gap.
Virginia's Gov. Robert F. McDonnell, meanwhile, acknowledged that his state has "a ways to go" in achieving all its 2011 cleanup goals. He vowed to maintain for now the blue crab catch limits that Maryland and Virginia had jointly set two years ago, to see if the 60 percent rebound this year in the bay's stock continues.
ChesapeakeStat (stat.chesapeakebay.net is inspired by the O'Malley administration's BayStat set up three years ago to provide Marylanders information about the state's restoration efforts. Officials described the new bay-wide website as a tool to help the public monitor the restoration effort, which has been criticized for missing cleanup deadlines while putting out inflated claims of progress.
The two governors, Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty and Baltimore Mayor Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake joined students from four Baltimore schools in planting seedlings and picking up trash littering the Inner Harbor's only remaining wetland.
Rawlings-Blake welcomed the bay leaders to Baltimore and told them how a nonprofit group recently launched a campaign to make the Baltimore harbor swimmable and fishable by 2020. Even though the bay as a whole is showing some signs of improvement in recent assessments, the Patapsco and Back River watersheds, which feed into the harbor, were the only Chesapeake tributaries to receive a failing grade in the University of Maryland's annual report card on the bay's health.
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson, selected by the group to lead the bay restoration's "executive council," was in Louisiana assisting the federal response to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. In her stead, Robert Perciasepe, deputy EPA administrator and a former Maryland environment secretary, declared the bay cleanup was entering a "new era of action," alluding to the "pollution diet" that federal officials are preparing to impose by year's end on all the bay states.
Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell was also absent, which Chesapeake Bay Foundation President William C. Baker called "very discouraging" because the state is a major portion of the 64,000-square-mile bay watershed.
Rendell press secretary Gary Tuma said the governor had stayed in Harrisburg to hold budget talks with legislative leaders, but that did not mean the governor wasn't fully committed to restoring the bay.