With Huge Bay Cleanup Dream A Bust, Leaders Alter Strategy

By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 15, 2006

RICHMOND, July 14 -- The leaders of Maryland, Virginia and the District conceded Friday that their attempt to win a Florida Everglades-style federal rescue of the Chesapeake Bay has all but died, but they pledged individual efforts to restore the region's vital watershed.

Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) and former Virginia governor Mark R. Warner (D) had said in December 2003 that they would seek about $12 billion from President Bush and Congress to finance a 10-year cleanup of what they called a national treasure.

"Given the retrenchment on Capitol Hill these days, it's not on the top of our agenda," Ehrlich said after a meeting with D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) and Warner's successor, Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D). "However, securing our existing funding streams is priority one," Ehrlich said of state efforts to raise money for the bay.

Aides said Ehrlich's comments reflect the recognition that the federal deficit has shot up, creating a vastly different budget reality.

But Ehrlich said he is optimistic about the region's ability to restore the bay's health over the next decade. "I do not share the pessimism at all," he said.

And Kaine promised that even without federal help, current state leaders will be seen as the ones who solved the bay's problems.

"This generation of leadership is going to be looked at as the solutions generation," Kaine said after a 2 1/2 -hour session with his counterparts. He said the fight to include $200 million for bay cleanup in Virginia's next budget "was one of the easiest ones, because it is a bipartisan consensus."

Kaine has pledged to restrict 400,000 acres from development during his term. In 2004, Maryland passed the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Act, which includes a $30-per-household fee on water usage, to raise about $900 million to upgrade sewage plants.

In September, Kaine and Williams will join Ehrlich in Annapolis for a bay summit to discuss how to finance the cleanup.

Will Baker, president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, praised efforts in Virginia and Maryland. But he said cleaning the bay of harmful nutrients flowing from developments will require more than local and state governments can provide. "I'm not ready to give up," Baker said. "I would reject an assertion that federal money to restore the Chesapeake Bay is not in the future."

Kaine said discussion of the Chesapeake Bay was part of a broader conversation among the three leaders about the need for regional cooperation. The meeting in Richmond was the sixth such summit, dating from Warner's term.

The three made no announcements of major programs after dining on salmon with a Virginia bourbon-pecan glaze, oven-roasted potatoes, sweet corn muffins and Virginia peanut butter mousse with chocolate sauce.

But they voiced concern about recent federal cuts to funding for homeland security programs in the Washington area. Kaine said they discussed how communities in Indiana were ranked higher than the Washington area on one federal list of threats from terrorism.

Williams said he discussed the District's recent crime emergency with the others and pledged to work with Ehrlich and Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) to develop better strategies for combating gangs.

The officials also talked about the need for improving the region's transportation system. Ehrlich praised Kaine's push for more road funds without endorsing his call for higher taxes.

Perhaps as a thank-you, Kaine declined to say whether he would campaign on behalf of Maryland's Democratic gubernatorial candidate -- and against Ehrlich. "I have not been asked to," Kaine said. Asked whether he would if he were asked, he answered: "I'm not answering a hypothetical."

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