Alison Prost and Dru Schmidt-Perkins: Time for Gubernatorial Candidates to Address Chesapeake Bay and Smart Growth

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By: Alison Prost and Dru Schmidt-Perkins 

It’s not too early to start talking about 2014 gubernatorial election issues. That’s why next Tuesday, exactly one year out, we are co-hosting a forum at the Westin of Annapolis for the declared candidates to present their platforms on two crucial issues: the Chesapeake Bay and smart growth.

All six of the declared candidates have accepted our invitation.

The idea is simple: the candidates will tell the public what they see as their legacy on these two issues. Marylanders deserve to know now, not later, how passionate their next governor might feel about the Bay, the plan for its restoration, and about curtailing costly sprawl growth that has slowed that restoration for too long. These issues must be a major part of this election.

This is our moment in time to finally solve the twin threats of Bay pollution and sprawl. For the first time ever we have a Bay restoration plan that holds the Bay states accountable for reducing pollution sufficiently to make the Chesapeake and our local rivers and streams safe for swimming and fishing. We call that plan the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint

Finding a way to continue to grow is essential, but not at the expense of all that we love and cherish about our communities, and our natural resources. We can’t continue to let development gobble up our farms and forests, and to leave behind an environmental mess, along with increased taxes for new roads and other public costs that come with badly located and poorly managed development. We need a future that is economically and environmental robust and resilient.

The light bulb of common sense has gone on for many Marylanders and many local governments in the state: restoring and preserving our natural environment advances our economy, while fouling our own nest ultimately kills our economic vitality. Look no further than the coalition of Baltimore City businesses that have joined forces in the Waterfront Partnership Of Baltimore, Inc. They have vowed to make the Inner Harbor safe for swimming and fishing by 2020. Last week executives in those businesses shed their suits, and attended a workshop to learn how to grow oysters.

Other inspiring stories abound of local governments “getting it,” rolling up their sleeves on environmental and growth issues. Prince George’s County has embraced the expensive challenge of polluted runoff from city and suburban landscapes. The county is pursuing an innovative public-private partnership that it believes can reduce its estimated costs for stormwater management improvements by 40 percent. County officials realize that they can actually make the job cheaper in the long run by collecting a stormwater fee from residents, then using those funds smartly through the partnership.

Smart growth reflects the same kind of innovative thinking. Encourage growth near areas that can accommodate and even benefit from that growth. That means not only revitalized cities, but it also means revitalized rural towns. Store fronts boarded up as family farming disappeared can once again attract small businesses.

But while many are catching on to the benefits of smart thinking, there are still hidebound local governments in Maryland. Carroll and Frederick have essentially thumbed their noses at state law and refused to dedicate revenue toward reducing polluted runoff, as Prince George’s and other counties are doing. In Harford and Anne Arundel counties, a few politicians are introducing reversals or drastic cut-backs in their programs. Charles County is considering a new Comprehensive Plan that the state says could allow 150,000 acres of farmland and forest to be developed. An estimated 339 major subdivisions could be built in areas of the county which the state considers ecologically important.

Maryland has been a leader in smart environmental and growth policies, those that benefit the Bay as well as Bay-related economies, watermen as well as crabs and oysters, family farmers as well as water quality in farm creeks.

This sort of leadership will be critical to sustain our goal of restoring the Bay, and preserving a rural way of life in many locations. Right now development is on track to pave over 400,000 acres of Maryland’s working lands. The Bay cannot afford that future; neither can we.

Next Tuesday is one year from the 2014 elections. This is the time to make sure that the environmental and growth future of Maryland is a major part of pre-election discussions.  This forum in Annapolis kicks that off.

The forum will be Tuesday, Nov. 5, from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., at the Westin Annapolis, 100 Westgate Circle.  Click here to register to attend.

Alison Prost is Maryland Executive Director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, and Dru Schmidt-Perkins is President of 1,000 Friends of Maryland.

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