The Maryland Senate approved broad regulations today aimed at controlling development along the Chesapeake Bay shoreline and curbing pollution in the nation's largest estuary.
The regulations, which passed 42 to 4, now go to the House of Delegates, where Eastern Shore lawmakers have also argued that the plan would unfairly penalize communities on the peninsula for pollution caused upstream. The regulations are expected to survive in the House despite those objections.
But legislative leaders said there may be room for compromise to subdue the outcry from planners, developers and politicians from waterfront jurisdictions who have trooped to the State House during this legislative session to testify against the plan.
Senate President Melvin A. Steinberg (D-Baltimore County), who with other legislators met with Gov. Harry Hughes on Thursday, said yesterday that any relaxation of the rules would not reduce the guidelines by the Chesapeake Bay Critical Areas Commission. The commission was established two years ago to recommend ways of reducing pollution in the bay.
"Nothing should be looked at as sacrosanct without an effort to address the bona fide concerns that are raised," Steinberg said immediately after today's Senate vote. "I don't want to create a loophole," he added. "I would be supportive of flexibility."
Democratic Eastern Shore Sens. Frederick Malkus and Walter M. Baker, who have been the most vocal critics of the proposed regulations, are still hopeful that the legislature will approve a bill pending in committee that would double the amount of new development allowed in the shore's most sparsely built areas. Those legislators have argued that they need more development to spur their region's economy.
"I live on the water," said Malkus during debate on the measure. "I like clean water . . . but honestly and truly, when you say this bill is going to clean up the bay, that's phony."
Sen. Norman Stone (D-Baltimore County), the chairman of the committee that killed a handful of bills this week that would have relaxed the restrictions, said today that the pending legislation can be used to hammer out a compromise.
"There are cases where higher density may be suitable," he said. "But we're really anxious to see how the law works without starting out on the wrong foot, without weakening the criteria."
House Speaker Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Baltimore) and Environmental Matters Committee Chairman Larry Young both said they expect action on the legislation next week.
"There's room for negotiation, but I'm not so sure it's going to be on acreage or density," said Cardin.
Only Sens. Malkus, Baker, William H. Amoss (D-Harford), and Joseph J. Long Sr. (D-Eastern Shore), voted against the regulations passed today -- known as "critical areas" criteria -- and many of their strongest opponents appeared ready for any compromise offered.
"When you're a starving individual, you don't ask for filet mignon," said Baker.