ANNAPOLIS – Environmentalists applauded the strategy against sprawl that Gov. Parris N. Glendening outlined in his State of the State address Wednesday, but they were disappointed at his proposed mass-transit budget and his silence on open-bay dumping.
Flush with a $940 million budget surplus, the state has the wherewithal to step up environmental efforts and encourage local government to adopt versions of Smart Codes, zoning and building regulations designed to encourage development near population centers, Glendening said.
As a reward for adopting Smart Codes, Glendening said governments could tap into his planned $150 million Neighborhood Conservation Program.
“Right now it is easier to build out there…somewhere…than to invest in existing communities,” Glendening said to the attentive audience packed into the House of Delegates Chamber. “We must reverse this and put the emphasis on the need to reuse and redevelop established areas.”
Environmentalists lauded Glendening for addressing sprawl and pollution as societal issues, rather than detached ecological issues.
“For the first time the environment was not a separate, isolated issue,” said Dru Schmidt-Perkins, executive director of 1000 Friends of Maryland, a statewide coalition to revitalize older communities. “I was really pleased with how he linked the sprawl issues to our schools, our economy and our very way of life,” she said. Indeed, Glendening extolled Maryland’s application of this lesson in recent years.
“We now understand that the growth patterns we saw in the past half- century are not only harmful for the environment and for our existing communities, but also are costly to our taxpayers,” he said.
He boasted of the state’s permanent preservation over the last five years of 187,000 acres of land.
“And today-for the first time in the history of the state-we are preserving more productive farmland and forest land than we are losing to development,” he said, to roaring applause. But environmentalists paused before granting Glendening a perfect report card. His mass-transit set-aside, the most the state has ever provided, is “absolutely not enough,” said Schmidt-Perkins. However, she said, it is more than previous administrations offered and affords an opportunity to plan before gridlock gets worse.
The governor on Monday outlined a six-year $7.8 billion transportation program, $769 million of which will go toward mass transit. But Theresa Pierno, executive director for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation said Glendening’s commitment to mass-transit is acknowledgement that “the transportation choices we make today are going to directly impact our restoration efforts for the bay.” “We would like to see the pie chart change,” she said, with a bigger slice for mass-transit funding and a shrinking slice for highway construction. But for now, she said, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation will encourage legislators to review the impact more highways will have on air pollution before they build more. The governor did not mention in his address his position on open-bay dumping at Site 104, a spot north of the Bay Bridge planned to receive 18 million cubic yards of dredge from Baltimore Harbor, that has environmentalists angry. However, environmental groups are hopeful Glendening will oppose the procedure once the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers releases an environmental impact study this July. Glendening’s refusal to postpone plans for dumping dredge “was our only disappointment” with his address, said Mildred Kriemelmeyer, president of the Maryland Conservation Council.
But the environmental lobby is adamant Glendening oppose dumping at Site 104 if the study predicts harmful effects on the bay. “When the Army report comes back, no matter how minimal the damage, we would expect the governor to oppose Site 104 dumping,” Pierno said. Glendening has shown his concern for the bay with other appropriations. The Department of Natural Resources will receive $200,000 to monitor the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries and $1 million to develop sanctuaries for imperiled oyster populations. He also supports legislation to require nitrogen- removal systems on new septic systems. Despite that criticism, environmentalists say they have found in Glendening a leader with true concern for the state’s water, land and air. The state has “a long way to go” until its environmental problems are comprehensively addressed, said Schmidt-Perkins of 1000 Friends. “But Glendening hasn’t just had one environmental or one smart-growth year. He has continued to work to discover solutions and every year he comes up with more initiatives.”