An article Wednesday misspelled the name of Chesapeake Bay Foundation official Mike Hirshfield. (Published 12/1110/1999)
A new round of restoration measures for Chesapeake Bay will be presented today, but without agreement on how to slow conversion of the open space around the estuary to subdivisions, a major source of harmful, nutrient-laden runoff.
The Chesapeake Executive Council, the bay's principle policymaking body, will release for public comment a draft document outlining commitments to boost oyster populations tenfold, restore wetlands and meet federal clean water standards by 2010, the first time a compliance date has been set, officials said yesterday.
But the six-member council--representing the District, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, the federal Environmental Protection Agency and a largely legislative group called the Chesapeake Bay Commission--has been unable to agree on whether to set a numeric goal for curbing the transformation of farm and forest acres into residential and commercial developments, a key component of improving water quality.
Annually, about 90,000 acres of undeveloped land in the bay watershed are replaced by homes, retail strips and office parks, making it easier for nitrogen, phosphorus and sediments to wash off impermeable surfaces into bay waters. The runoff increases algae and reduces sunlight and oxygen, making it more difficult for bay life to survive.
All council members except Virginia want to establish a goal of cutting the loss by 30 percent--limiting it to 63,000 acres annually--by 2010, officials said. Mike Morrill, a spokesman for Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D), the council's current chairman, said a specific goal was "incredibly important to the overall strength of the agreement." Otherwise, Morrill said, "It's all nice, pretty language."
Mike Hirschfield, vice president of the private Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said that without the 30 percent pledge, he was "very skeptical" the goal of clean water by 2010 could be met.
"If we have learned anything," Glendening said in a statement, "it is that what happens on land impacts the water. . . . We cannot afford to continue along the path of cutting down every tree and paving over every farm around the Bay."
In a letter yesterday, Glendening told Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III (R) that the council's draft of proposed improvements would include the 30 percent pledge, along with a note that Virginia disagrees with the five other members, a step that seemed to surprise and irritate Virginia officials.
"I would be very disappointed if our partners in the bay program felt it was appropriate to put some kind of pressure on Virginia to go along with what everybody else agrees on," John Paul Woodley Jr., the secretary of natural resources, said in a telephone interview. "I don't think that's in the spirit of the partnership that's existed for the past 15 years."
Woodley said the state could not agree to a numeric goal for reducing the loss of open space because "land-use planning and decision-making are very firmly placed in Virginia in the hands of our localities, and a commitment like that . . . is just totally foreign to our law."
An official familiar with the crafting of the draft document, but who asked not to be identified, said differences between Virginia and the other five council members were not insurmountable. Language suggesting that the states work with local governments to reduce the loss of open space by 30 percent "might be a compromise position," the official said.
"This issue is of such importance that the public is going to force us to come to closure on this," the official said.