By Candia Dames
ANNAPOLIS – Rapid residential development along the Chesapeake Bay threatens the 3,600 species that live there, witnesses told the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy as it kicked off a national fact-finding mission this week.
The 16-member commission, appointed by President Bush to carry out an 18- month investigation into problems facing U.S. coastal regions, started Monday in Annapolis.
The commission says that about 75 percent of Americans will live in coastal areas by 2025. Already, more than 40 percent of new commercial and residential development is along coastal areas like the Chesapeake Bay.
Peter Marx, associate director of the EPA Chesapeake Bay Program, said the bay’s proximity to Washington helped it snag the attention of the commissioners, who will present a special report to the president at the end of the tour. But Marx said the threats to the bay are real.
He said his office is concerned about bay-area development that is not environmentally friendly. He said developers are being encouraged to use materials that reduce water pollution, and that creating a partnership with builders is important because, “when we reduce pollution in one area, our gains are offset by all this development going on.”
Kathleen McHugh, executive vice president of the Maryland State Builders Association, said development ordinances at a local level are outdated, but that many builders welcome the idea of protecting the health of the bay.
The association formed a coalition last month with the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay to promote low-impact building. “We see it as an opportunity to develop in an environmentally sensitive manner,” McHugh said.
The increase in residential communities is, so far, bad news for watermen who earn a living on the bay, said Larry Simns, president of the Maryland Waterman’s Association.
Simns said he fears that more development will mean more sewage treatment plants, which means more stress on the bay and its species. Environmentalists have long charged that the nitrogen flowing into the bay from treatedd sewage creates algae blooms that rob the body of water of oxygen needed for the survival of other species.
Simns said any new policies affecting the bay must better regulate sewage treatment plants.
“It’s easier to regulate the little man,” he said, “but when it comes to trying to regulate a municipality or a big company [the government] is a little slow to move on that.”
Commission member William Ruckelshaus, who was the first EPA administrator, said Monday that the bay is also threatened by nutrients from agricultural run-off, power plants and automobiles. Such concerns will likely be incorporated into the spring 2003 report, Ruckelshaus said.
Commission Chairman James D. Watkins, who joined half of the commissioners at a Charleston, S.C., meeting Monday, said in a release that “a streamlined federal oceans policy . . . that is sensible and balanced for fishermen, environmentalists, corporations, state and federal authorities and everyone with a stake in ocean interests” is long overdue.
Over the next eight months, commissioners plan to visit coastal regions including Hawaii, Louisiana, California and Alaska. Planned stops include ocean- related facilities like offshore oil rigs and seaports.
Commissioners said visiting ports is essential to the formulation of ocean policies, as these facilities are expected to undergo significant added stress by the year 2010 when U.S. foreign trade is projected to hit more than $5 trillion.