County, groups at odds on move
Joining coalition draws opposition
SALISBURY — A decision by the Wicomico County government to join the Clean Chesapeake Coalition has brought rebuke from environmental groups.
Calling this week’s decision unwise and disappointing, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Wicomico Environmental Trust and Wicomico Creekwatchers are urging county leaders to reconsider the $25,000 membership.
“We’re rather dismayed,” said Judith Stribling, science coordinator for Wicomico Creekwatchers. “We hope the county will reconsider that decision since there has been no formal vote. It’s a lot of taxpayer money to be spent on very, very unclear outcomes.”
The coalition formed a year ago after the Dorchester County Council questioned the Watershed Implementation Plan, which sets goals for cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.
The multi-million dollar price tag for Maryland counties is one of the reasons the coalition often says its looking for a more fiscally responsible way to clean up the bay and its tributaries.
Karen Lukacs, executive director of the Wicomico Environmental Trust, and Erik Fisher, Maryland land use planner for The Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said they are disappointed county leaders have not meet with organizations that work for clean water.
“Participation in this coalition puts a wedge between the planning we’ve done so far,” Lukacs said.
At this point, the coalition’s focus appears to be on the Conowingo Dam in Pennsylvania. While not involved in the negotiations through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to relicense the dam, the coalition hopes to have the area upriver dredged for sediment as part of that license.
Stribling said discussion about the dam is more of a red herring than an actual concern of the coalition. While she agrees it needs to be part of a regional effort to clean up the bay, she questions if that is the real intention of the coalition.
“I feel like the Clean Chesapeake Coalition is trying to cover the fact that they really don’t want any local entities to have responsibility for what goes into the Chesapeake Bay, and that’s really unfair,” Stribling said.
Jeff Blomquist, partner at Funk & Bolton, which works on coalition issues, said the coalition’s first goal is to talk with state and federal governments to reduce the cost of watershed implementation plans.
“Litigation is not the first objective, the first objective is to reach out to the state agencies and the EPA and say this is what we think should be done,” Blomquist said. “If they leave us no alternative, ultimately we could engage in litigation.”
During its first meetings in Wicomico County, executive Rick Pollitt did not support the county becoming a member.
Pollitt said he changed his mind during the past year because he believes its focus is not a lawsuit against the watershed implementation plan, but a dialogue about how to best clean up waterways.
“I was a very reluctant convert to the clean Chesapeake exercise when it was proposed about a year ago,” Pollitt said. “I saw it as something hostile and confrontational, something designed maybe to go through the court system to have an injunction against the state. Over time and in discussion with the principals involved, it may very well be that their strategy never was that or maybe it has evolved.”
If the coalition was to decide on a lawsuit or other legal action, Pollitt said he isn’t sure he would want the county to withdraw its membership.
Fisher, Lukacs and Stribling all say the group has mentioned lawsuits at Dorchester County meetings.
Fisher said while the coalition may say it wants a clean Chesapeake Bay, whether it supports the watershed implementation plans many counties already have written or fights to have them removed will be a good indication of intentions.
“There have been a lot of folks working on clean water for a long time and a lot of what the coalition is suggesting really runs counter to all of that work,” Fisher said. “It doesn’t sound like collaboration, it doesn’t look like collaboration, so we have cause for concern.”