WASHINGTON – A report targeting $55 billion in “wasteful and environmentally harmful” programs lists five in Maryland, including programs to build trails and restore Ocean City beaches.
But those programs were strongly defended by state and local officials as neither wasteful nor harmful, but instead cost-efficient and beneficial.
The seventh annual “Green Scissors” report, released Thursday by a coalition of environmental and budget watchdog groups, “outlines 74 programs that, if cut, would save taxpayers more than $55 billion and protect our environment.”
“Using Green Scissors recommendations to cross ideological boundaries. . .our government can save billions of dollars, eliminate wasteful spending and leave our environment better off,” said Erich Pica, campaign director and spokesman for Friends of the Earth. It is one of the main groups in the coalition, along with the U.S. Public Interest Research Group and Taxpayers for Common Sense.
In Maryland, the report also targeted insurance subsidies for the nuclear industry, clean coal technology research and components of the so-called “Outer Beltways,” such as the Inter-County Connector and the Western Bypass.
But it was the beach replenishment and recreational trails programs that drew the strongest defense from Maryland officials.
“Beach replenishment for the town of Ocean City has been the backbone of our continued success in tourism,” said Ocean City Manager Dennis Dare. “I think if they’re speaking about Ocean City’s beach replenishment program, they’re either narrow-minded or uninformed.
“We’ve spent about $70 million in beach replenishment since 1989,” Dare said. “But we’ve prevented damage to the infrastructure in excess of that number in just one storm.”
The Army Corps of Engineers Baltimore District web site said the beach project had prevented $230 million in storm damage from October 1991 through July 1998.
But Joan Willey of the Maryland chapter of the Sierra Club has criticized the project as benefiting beachside businesses in Ocean City.
“Why should citizens pay $40 million a year subsidizing the businesses in Ocean City?” Willey asked in an interview last month.
Dare counters that Ocean City property and business taxes more than make up for the cost of the project.
“We have 10 miles of beach with $4 billion worth of property that sends in excess of $60 million a year in taxes to the state of Maryland,” he said.
State officials also defend the program that provides money for motorized and non-motorized recreational trails. The Recreational Trails Program is a joint federal-state project that helps states develop and maintain recreational trails for both motorized and non-motorized use.
“It is one of the most gratifying programs I’ve worked with,” said Sylvia Ramsey, manager of the trails program for the Maryland Department of Transportation.
The program gets about $800,000 in federal money each year, an amount that is then matched by local jurisdictions, Ramsey said. She said the cost is “terribly insignificant compared to all the good will that we’ve created with the local community through the program.”
Maryland also gets about $11 million a year from the much larger Transportation Enhancement Activities Program, which provides states money that can only be used for non-motorized trails, such as hiker-biker and equestrian trails. The larger program funds “really big projects” – such as the Capital Crescent Trail which runs from Montgomery County into the District and the newly completed WBA trail in Prince George’s County, Ramsey said.
She said the “supplemental, smaller scale” Recreational Trails Program – which costs about $50 million a year nationally – has earned the ire of environmentalists since its inception in 1991 because it funds up to 70 percent of the cost of trails for “off-road vehicles.” These include all-terrain vehicles, motorcycles, sport-utility vehicles and snowmobiles.
Pica said that his organization’s opposition is less fiscal than environmental, based on the damage it believes is done by off-road vehicles.
“A majority of these funds are going to the creation of motorized trails at the expense of non-motorized trail uses, such as hiker-biker trails,” Pica said. “Off-road vehicles contribute to air pollution and water pollution. They tear up ecosystems. The federal government shouldn’t be funding their use on federal lands.”
Ramsey said that while motorized trails are important in Western states and snowy states, they are only a small part of the demand in Maryland.
“The states that get a lot of snow have such powerful snowmobile lobbies,” she said. “In Maryland, we don’t do this because we haven’t had that many applications for motorized vehicles.”
Here, Ramsey said, the Recreational Trails Program is used for connector trails and erosion control, as well other, more diverse uses, such as a gazebo built in Severna Park along the Baltimore and Annapolis Trail.