ANNAPOLIS – The University of Maryland at College Park decided last week to forgo an informal agreement to make its campus more environmentally friendly, frustrating advocates of the Anacostia watershed.
The campus is second-largest landowner and sits right in the middle of the Anacostia River’s 176 square-mile watershed.
“I think he should sign it and I don’t know why he’s not,” said Scott Angle, associate dean of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, referring to President Clayton D. Mote Jr.’s decision not to sign the agreement.
“The university has not been a good environmental citizen,” said Angle, who was helping to work out the agreement. “I don’t know where we go from here. It’s been a big disappointment.”
The university had planned to sign an informal agreement that would hold it accountable to the Anacostia Watershed Restoration Committee for actions it takes on campus that affect the river.
The campus is finalizing its master plan, which details changes to combat run-off and create more open space.
Since the university has so many paved surfaces on its grounds, the run- off volume into nearby Paint Branch Stream is very high, said river expert John Galli, who works with the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. Two of the 17 miles of the Paint Branch Stream are actually on campus grounds, but that stream is one of the major tributaries into the Northeast Branch of the eight- mile Anacostia.
“A lot of those buildings and parking areas have no storm water management controls,” said Galli.
The agreement was to include commitments from the university to remove stream blockages, protect forested wetland areas and get the students and community more involved in education about the Anacostia River.
Some of these changes will most likely be included in the university’s long-term master plan, said campus spokesman George Cathcart. But the university decided not to commit until the plan was final, likely in 2002, he said.
Drafts of the plan were circulated in the president’s office this summer, but Cathcart said the administration hasn’t backed out of anything because there was no formal agreement.
“You can’t back out of anything you were never involved in,” he said. “We’ve always been open to discussion to community groups.”
The relationship between the university and the surrounding environmental community has never been good, said Robert Boone, Anacostia Watershed Society president. The university’s lack of commitment is definitely a step backward compared to its openness last spring when it was beginning to develop its master plan, he said.
“This has been their attitude for many years,” he said. “They don’t realize the impact they have on the watershed. That’s the reason they don’t take action.”
The College Park campus is the single-largest draw for vehicles in the state, between its day-to-day operations and sporting events, Boone said. After a large rainstorm, he said, there is an incredible surge of pollution that drains into the stream from all the parking lots on campus.
“It’s like a bulldozer going through your community,” he said of the large amount of sediment flowing into the stream, which in turn feeds the Northeast branch of the Anacostia River.
Although the agreement may have only been preliminary in nature, Boone said showing interest sets an example to the surrounding community.
“Being a public agency they should be held more accountable,” he said. “They should send a signal that they are wanting to be a team leader and they’re not.”
The university has made environmental progress recently, said Angle, despite the setback on the agreement.
The university will eventually remove the pipe that blocks the Paint Branch Stream and prevents herring from jumping over it. It also has plans to install a rain garden to control run-off.
That prompted Angle to say, “There is a new attitude on campus.”