A $19.4 million plan to reduce pollution and restore bay grasses and oyster habitat to the Corsica River was announced by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. yesterday as a "blueprint" for saving the Chesapeake Bay.
"We are embarking upon an unprecedented environmental effort," Ehrlich (R) said yesterday, surrounded by federal, state and local officials at a site overlooking the Eastern Shore river. Fouled over the years with millions of gallons of untreated sewage that once flowed from an antiquated treatment plant in Centreville, the river travels west from Centerville and into the bay north of the Bay Bridge.
The plant in Centreville has been rebuilt. And the Corsica River Pilot Project unveiled yesterday aims to further reduce pollution through improved technology and farming practices. Millions of young oysters are being planted on oyster bars in the river as part of the project, grasses that provide oxygen and habitat for marine life are being restored, and monitoring for water quality will be stepped up, officials said.
In a separate effort, officials also announced yesterday a plan to sell bottled "Maryland Natural Spring Water" in restaurants and stores to raise money for cleaning up the bay.
Will Baker, president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, called the Corsica River initiative a positive step. "We hope it will be a model to lead to a similar approach to the entire Chesapeake Bay," he said, noting that that job would be vast compared with the cleanup of a single river.
The Chesapeake Bay watershed covers 64,000 square miles and includes parts of six states. "Between $10 [billion] and $12 billion over the next 10 years would get 80 percent of the job done," Baker said.
Democrats dismissed yesterday's announcements as mere window dressing.
"This is like saying you need to replenish a beach and showing up with five grains of sand," said Maryland Democratic Party spokesman Derek Walker. He said the governor has stood by while the Bush administration has cut environmental protections.
"They've gutted all the programs to save the bay," Walker said.
The Corsica River Pilot Project is being funded with state, federal and private money, said Maryland Department of Natural Resources spokeswoman Megan Evans.
Brent Walls, staff scientist and watershed coordinator for the Chester River Association, said he would watch the project's progress and hope for the best. The Corsica empties into the Chester River, and he said water quality in the Corsica River is better this year, thanks to the new treatment plant and reduced runoff because of the dry weather and other factors. But at the same time, he said, he is troubled by state policies that are allowing additional waterfront development to threaten the same sensitive areas the project aims to clean up.
"What we need are stronger regulations and laws to force landowners and developers to choose living shorelines over rock and bulwarks," Walls said.
Heading his boat homeward after a windy morning of fishing on the Bay, Larry Simns, president of the Maryland Watermen's Association, took a longer view of the work to be done.
"We gotta start somewhere," Simns said. "The Corsica River is a good place to start. We clean up that treatment plant, plant some oysters, plant some grasses, do some marshland around the sewer plant -- we get that cleaned up, we can start with the Chester River."