Local government officials in Maryland, who spend much of their time wooing development, are being forced by newly toughened state laws to balance their interest in growth against the health of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.
The new state laws call for stricter monitoring of farm and construction sites for excess soil erosion, runoff and other potential polluters of area waterways.
Toughening of the laws has meant that in some jurisdictions that have not passed state standards -- including Montgomery, Charles and Calvert counties -- the state is taking over inspections of construction and agricultural sites.
In other counties, including Prince George's and Anne Arundel, where state standards for inspections have been met, the investigations will continue to be conducted by local agencies, a method developers and farmers generally prefer.
The key issue for builders and enforcement authorities is control of sediment and erosion, responsible for major muddying of Maryland waters.
Under state regulations, builders must take precautions to guard against runoff from their construction sites into nearby streams and rivers.
Those precautions, tailored to each site, could consist of such measures as stacking straw bales or staking cloth fences or digging dirt basins into which the sediment would drain.
Other areas left without vegetation might be seeded or mulched to prevent runoff.
State inspectors took a look at the way local enforcement agencies were monitoring such erosion control during field visits around the state in January and February.
Most of the counties subsequently denied enforcement authority are appealing the Water Resources Administration's decision to Torrey Brown, the secretary of the Department of Natural Resources.
Prince George's officials viewed their successful state application as a victory in the county's effort to combine the sometimes clashing philosophies of aggressive development and environmental protection.
Willie Furr, the county's deputy building inspector for enforcement, said that construction activity has increased 30 to 40 percent over last year.
Such an increase has spurred county officials in Montgomery and Prince George's to state that environmental protection, too, is an important priority for local government.
Robert Seely, the acting chief of Montgomery County's division of construction codes enforcement, said that county officials there were "a little miffed" by the state denial.
Construction activity there has also increased by roughly 40 percent, Seely said.
"We were always cited as the example of [successful] sediment control, because we were the first in the nation to have a sediment control program, and some of our procedures were copied by the state," he said.
The Montgomery County procedures include inspections from the air and the use of a computerized tracking system for violators.
The division has four full-time sediment control investigators-compared with seven in Prince George's-but hopes to receive funding for a another in the new county budget.
"We think we have a good program and we don't think we got all the credits we deserved," Seely said.
In Prince George's, noncompliance with state standards can net a violator a criminal penalty of up to $1,000 a day or up to 90 days imprisonment or a civil penalty of $250 for a first-time offender.
Montgomery civil penalties are identical, and criminal penalties are a $1,000 fine or up to six months in jail.
Local enforcement power, officials argue, gives them greater control over what developers do to adhere to the state anti-pollution controls.
Hamer Campbell, a spokesman for the Suburban Maryland Building Industry Association, agreed. "Dealing with Annapolis is a lot harder than dealing with Upper Marlboro or Rockville," he said.