By Aleksandra Robinson
BALTIMORE – The Mattawoman Creek — and planned construction of the Cross-County Connector in Charles County — will, for some, be an indication of the effectiveness of the latest round of Chesapeake Bay cleanup efforts.
At a sparsely attended public comment session Wednesday at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, several members of the Mattawoman Watershed Society, along with bay advocates and concerned citizens, brought their opinions to federal Chesapeake Bay czar Chuck Fox and representatives from other government agencies.
The public comment session was the second of seven scheduled throughout the bay states to give citizens an opportunity to ask questions about and comment on recently released draft strategies for bay cleanup mandated by President Obama’s Chesapeake Bay Executive Order, issued in May. The executive order established a committee, led by the Environmental Protection Agency, to develop a plan for implementing bay cleanup strategy.
“The executive order really focuses on increasing the accountability and performance of the Bay Program,” said Fox. “This executive order, as everyone knows here, grew out of 30 years (of work).”
Some environmental advocates, however, are concerned the draft strategies and the executive order don’t include enough penalties and incentives — that local governments, developers and federal agencies won’t really change their ways without the force of law.
Fred Tuttman, Patuxent waterkeeper, was concerned the measure has no teeth.
“The executive order is new, executive-office thinking. What people in the Mattawoman and what people in the Patuxent are saying is that there are existing laws that are not being followed,” Tuttman said. “The existing authorities aren’t holding up the existing laws, much less laws that we have yet to pass.”
Former state Sen. Gerald Winegrad, an adjunct environmental education and advocacy professor at the University of Maryland, College Park, School of Public Policy, criticized inaction on the bay.
“Everyone is for saving the bay but no one is for changing the status quo,” said Winegrad.
Mattawoman Creek, a 20-mile stream that flows through Prince George’s and Charles counties from Indian Head, is one example of a lack of desire for real change, Winegrad said.
Tom Zolper, Maryland communications coordinator for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said Mattawoman Creek was named by the Department of Natural Resources as the most productive tributary in the state. And American Rivers, a national conservation organization, named the creek the No. 4 most-endangered river in the country this year.
The creek is endangered because of a proposed, six-mile stretch of highway that would cross the creek and lengthen the Cross-County Connector. The project would consume seven acres of wetlands and spawn about 1,300 new houses, Zolper said.
“You have kind of a double-whammy,” he said. “It means so much more than just a local fight about a highway. It does represent some of the problems that we’ve seen in trying to restore the bay.”
Winegrad said the ideas proposed to save the Mattawoman and still build the highway are, as of now, unviable.
“Anyone that thinks that Smart Growth works in Maryland is living in La La Land.”
Bonnie Bick, environmental justice chairwoman of the Sierra
Club in Maryland and member of the Mattawoman Watershed Society, said the Mattawoman Creek would be a test of the strength of the executive order.
“With all eyes on the bay,” she said, “this is like the magic time for the bay.”