- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Everybody wants to clean up the Chesapeake Bay. And, it seems, just about everybody wants somebody else to do it.
St. Mary’s County has been asked to join the Clean Chesapeake Coalition. This is a group of, so far, seven of Maryland’s more rural counties.
The Clean Chesapeake Coalition says the federal and state plan to restore the bay’s water quality has it all wrong. The big problem is not sediment runoff from farm fields and lawns, or nutrients from inadequate septic systems and sewer plants.
The big problem, the coalition says, is a dam on the Susquehanna River near the Pennsylvania border. The reservoir behind Conowingo Dam, built in 1928, is full of sediment, and during heavy rains that sediment is stirred up and flows over the dam and into the bay, the coalition says.
It’s this sediment-filled water coming down the Susquehanna from Pennsylvania and New York that is the “single largest source of pollution coming into the Chesapeake Bay,” according to an attorney hired by the coalition.
And so, the coalition’s argument goes, the priority of Maryland’s bay cleanup plan should be using the federal relicensing process to get Exelon, the owner of the Conowingo Dam, to bear responsibility for dredging the reservoir. Exelon’s license expires in September 2014.
The St. Mary’s County commissioners were asked this week to chip in $25,000 to join this effort. Why should they do that? Because dredging the dam isn’t the only goal of the Clean Chesapeake Coalition. Another goal, and one of immediate interest to the county governments who joined the coalition, is to derail the state’s current cleanup plan.
The coalition calls for reworking each county’s watershed management plan. These plans are required by the state and following through with them could cost local governments millions of dollars to upgrade sewer plants between now and 2025. The plans also limit the number of new septic systems allowed in rural areas and make them more expensive. They also require an upgrade to stormwater management plans.
The coalition’s agenda is an attack on the science and the cost of the state’s cleanup plan. It’s not nutrients being flushed into the bay from Maryland wastewater and runoff that are killing the bay, the argument goes. It’s water coming down the Susquehanna from New York and Pennsylvania.
So the bottom line is this: Who should pay to clean up the Chesapeake Bay?
The coalition is a lobbying group of county governments arguing the burden shouldn’t be on them or their citizens. It makes a shrewd point by directing attention elsewhere, and it is one worth exploring. The Conowingo Dam’s contribution to the bay’s troubles is real; how can that impact be lessened?
But why is this an either/or choice? Does anyone really believe all of the bay’s troubles come floating down the Susquehanna? Do those who actually live near the Chesapeake bear no responsibility?
The St. Mary’s County commissioners have yet to decide if they will pay the $25,000 to join this coalition’s lobbying efforts. That requires them to decide if the coalition’s aim is really a cleaner bay or creating a sideshow to subvert the state’s cleanup plan.