Cumberland Times-News

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November 9, 2012

Allegany County to hire firm to fight current Chesapeake Bay cleanup plan

Foundation advocates say battle may be misguided

CUMBERLAND — Allegany County commissioners have voted to contribute up to $25,000 to pay a law firm that is representing half a dozen counties in an effort to change the current plan to fight Chesapeake Bay pollution.

Chesapeake Bay Foundation leaders say the effort may be misguided and based on inaccurate data.

Funk and Bolton said it hopes to have at least 10 counties buy into the fight, which is designed to be more of a lobbying effort than a lawsuit, commission President Michael McKay said.

The $25,000 will go into a special escrow account at the firm and will not be funneled through another jurisdiction, county officials said.

In October, the law firm made a presentation to county commissioners about their plans.

The Conowingo Dam is the largest single contributor to Chesapeake Bay pollution, and no one is doing anything about the dam, firm members said in a previous presentation to commissioners.

“It’s the elephant in the room right now,” said Charles “Chip” MacLeod of the firm.

Alison Prost, Maryland executive director of the foundation, agreed the dam is an issue, but not the major problem in bay cleanup efforts.

“It is a serious issue, but it is one issue,” Prost said. “The dam is not what is fouling local waters ... cleaning up local waters is part of the solution,” Prost said. She pointed to the fact that several streams and reservoirs in the county are impaired by pollution.

The firm’s aim is not to engage in litigation versus the state, but rather to advocate and “shift the debate” to address the real issues facing the bay and, in the process, help rural counties start “pushing back,” firm officials said, according to MacLeod.

The law firm believes money being spent for bay cleanup is not having the desired effect.

“The water quality of the bay has not improved much, if at all,” MacLeod said. “A lot of money is being spent with not much effect.”

Prost disagreed.

“It’s totally inaccurate to say that money is being spent to no effect ... the funding is very much paying off,” Prost said, citing statistics that cleanup goals between 1985 and 2010 have been met by more than 50 percent.

The goals are aimed at reduction of pollutants into the bay. Maryland, for instance, discharged 24 million fewer pounds of nitrogen in 2010 than in 1985.

Prost questioned the motives of the challenge and attempt to redefine the debate.

“There are numerous inaccuracies” in Funk and Bolton’s Sept. 20 letter to Allegany County commissioners outlining its challenge to bay cleanup strategy, she said.

The foundation has put together a draft six-page memo attacking the law firm’s letter point by point. It will eventually be published, foundation officials said.

Prost said it’s one thing if the counties are looking to get more technical assistance on best practices to clean up waterways and implement their cleanup plans in a cost-effective manner. It is another matter, she said, if the law firm’s work is designed to delay cleanup efforts.

Foundation officials emphasized their willingness to work with local jurisdictions to assist bay cleanup plans and reduce costs associated with the cleanup.

“We will partner with local jurisdictions,” Prost said. She added that foundation officials understand the needs of local jurisdictions to keep the costs of cleanup efforts down.

To learn more about the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, visit: http://www.cbf.org/.

Contact Matthew Bieniek at mbieniek@times-news.com.

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