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Chesapeake not recovering, group says

By TOM STUCKEY / Associated Press

ANNAPOLIS -- The program to save the Chesapeake Bay "is fast becoming a national disgrace," and there was no overall improvement in the health of the bay over the last year, William C. Baker, president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said Monday.

"Existing environmental laws are simply not being enforced," Baker said. "Only in Maryland has there been a shred of progress."

The organization gave the bay a grade of 27 out of 100 - which it considers a D - on the report card it issues each year examining progress on solving pollution, habitat and fisheries problems. While there was movement up or down on various components of the report card, the overall score was the same as last year.

Rockfish stocks remain high and forest buffers and wetlands are holding their own, according to the report. There was some improvement in water quality, but it continued to get an F along with dissolved oxygen levels and pollution from nitrogen and phosphorus.

Baker gave Maryland credit for the law passed by the 2004 General Assembly adding a $2.50 monthly fee to sewer bills to pay for a $1 billion program to improve sewage treatment plants.

He praised the bipartisan efforts of Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich, who proposed the fee, and the Democratic legislative leaders who worked with the governor to get it through the General Assembly.

Baker called on Virginia officials to follow Maryland's lead on improving sewage treatment plants, a major source of nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in the bay. The foundation, the largest preservation group working on Chesapeake Bay restoration, will make sewage treatment its top priority in Virginia for 2005, Baker said.

If legislation providing funds to upgrade plants is not passed, it will be an admission that "Virginia is unwilling to take even the most basic step to save the bay," he said.

The major need in Pennsylvania is to reduce runoff from farming, which is a major contributor of nutrients that are the leading cause of bay pollution, Baker said.

Ehrlich said the bay foundation's report card seemed to reflect his view that there is "an uneasy status quo" in the health of the bay.

Like Baker, Ehrlich said the federal government needs to play a bigger role in restoring and preserving the bay. He said he will be lobbying in Washington "to get the president to adopt the bay" and provide more federal funds.

Baker said a greater effort to reduce pollution is needed from the Chesapeake Bay Executive Council, which includes the governors of the three states, the mayor of Washington, D.C., the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the chairman of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, which represents legislators in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

[ 11-30-2004, 10:51 AM: Message edited by: NIGHTSTRIKES ]
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