WASHINGTON – A regional government group backed a funding increase for Chesapeake Bay restoration projects Wednesday in endorsing two federal bills.
The measures won the support of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, which will request additional, specific funding so local governments can improve projects such as storm water management in the bay watershed, said Stuart Freudberg, director of COG’s Department of Environmental Programs.
The House and Senate bills, which would boost funding for the Chesapeake Bay Program from $40 million to $50 million, were sponsored by Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, R-Kennedyville, and Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Md.
The funding would be a good step forward, said Frederick County Commissioner John Lovell Jr., but it will take billions of dollars to reverse the effects of nutrient runoff, which causes fish-stifling algal growth, and other pollution.
“It would not begin to close the restoration funding gap,” said Lovell, who also heads the Chesapeake Bay and Water Resources Policy Committee.
COG will send letters of support to Gilchrest and Sarbanes, but it will ask for additions to the bills, including devoting at least 33 percent of annual Bay Program funds to local governments and non-government organizations. The council also recommended an increase in the cap on small watershed grants from $50,000 to $1 million.
“Local governments and non-profit organizations are being asked to play an increasingly important role in the Chesapeake Bay restoration effort,” a draft letter said. “More needs to be done to give these critical organizations the funding and tools necessary to carry out their roles in the bay restoration partnership.”
Gilchrest’s bill is being handled by the House Committee on Resources, while Sarbanes’ bill falls under the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee.
Freudberg said he is “optimistic” about the bills before Congress and COG’s requests.
“I think (they) will be well-received,” he said.
Sarbanes’ office, however, cited partisanship and fears the Senate bill will not come under discussion anytime soon.
“The Republican leadership does not seem to have the same commitment to the bay,” said Jesse Jacobs, Sarbanes’ press secretary. “In previous years, if Sarbanes and other members of the bay delegation asked for the bill it fell on deaf ears.”
The office of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., did not return calls for comment Wednesday.
While the bills’ passage would not solve all the bay’s problems, Freudberg said the legislation is “a very significant step in the right direction.”
“We take it one little step at a time to add up to the ultimate restoration,” he said.
Lovell said the bay restoration affects a wide range of Maryland’s population, from the taxpayer to the farmer who needs to plan a nutrient management program.
“As long as the rivers flow, the challenge will always be there,” Lovell said. “This is something every citizen is taking part in.”