Cumberland Times-News

November 21, 2012

Governor’s blog: Chesapeake Bay challenge a threat

Fight of cleanup efforts ‘threatens to undermine our collective actions’

Matthew Bieniek
Cumberland Times-News

— CUMBERLAND — A challenge by several counties encouraged by a law firm to fight and change the state’s current plan for Chesapeake Bay cleanup efforts “threatens to undermine our collective actions to restore the health of the bay,” according to a post on Gov. Martin O’Malley’s official blog. The post was written by Raquel Guillory, director of communications for the governor.

The post came as a follow-up to a letter sent to the governor by Chesapeake Bay Foundation leaders.

Local governments are not threatening bay cleanup efforts at all, said Charles “Chip” MacLeod of Funk and Bolton, the law firm putting together a coalition of counties and other local governments hoping to redefine the debate over bay cleanup.

“They seriously want to make a difference,” MacLeod said. Finding truly effective and cost-effective ways to help the bay is the goal of the coalition, he said.

The law firm, though, wants to focus on building a coalition of county and other local governments and not be distracted by politics.

“Down the road, the coalition will develop a strategy ... to deal with the political side,” MacLeod said.

Dorchester County, which the firm has represented for some time, and other counties “are concerned the monies being spent ... may not be producing the results hoped for,” MacLeod said.

Allegany County commissioners have voted to chip in up to $25,000 to join the firm’s coalition efforts.

The Nov. 9 letter to the governor from foundation officials asks him to intervene to smack down the challenge quickly.

“Because you have been such a strong leader on bay cleanup, we feel that you need to immediately engage to prevent this attack from gaining additional momentum and to reverse the course of those counties that have signed onto this misguided approach,” the letter reads. The letter was signed by Alison Prost, Maryland executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, and William Baker, the president of the organization.

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, an attorney with the firm said.

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

“It’s the elephant in the room right now,” said MacLeod.

Prost has 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. ... The dam is not what is fouling local waters ... cleaning up local waters is part of the solution,” Prost has said.

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.

To view the governor’s blog post, visit http://www.governor.maryland.gov/blog/?p=7092.

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