Vol. 8, No. 8
February 24 - March 1, 2000
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EEEK! Bad ol’ Virginia Suing Us?
Are They Nuts?

Ever had a neighbor whose treatment of the environment upset you?

Someone addicted to pesticides and fertilizers, fond of whacking down anything green and untroubled by qualms about obstructing your view with plastic, windowless sheds they didn’t need?

It feels sometimes that we all have such a neighbor in Virginia, which now has the audacity to sue us — you, me and every Marylander — for protecting the Potomac River. The case before the United States Supreme Court is about more than water.

This case is a beaut: Virginia is challenging Maryland’s refusal to permit a 725-foot pipe in the Potomac so that the Fairfax County Water Authority can draw water for its burgeoning population. It will test a decree dating back to 1632 that gave Maryland control of the Potomac.

For Maryland, it’s not just the pipe but the principle. Building the pipe will ensure more development along the Potomac, which doesn’t particularly trouble Virginia politicians and regulators.
We applaud Maryland’s efforts. Maryland has been ahead of the curve nationally in trying to control growth and direct it to where it will have the least impact on the overall quality of our lives. You may have missed it, but in some of those recent polls tracking the new election, sprawl has replaced crime as the No. 1 concern among many Americans.

In other words, people are feeling just as victimized by congestion and environmental ruination as by robbers and thugs. Maryland’s much-copied Smart Growth law two years ago responded to people’s sentiments.

It’s not that we don’t like Virginians. It’s just that Virginia acts like, well, Mississippi or Montana when it comes to natural resources. Just this month, the Virginia General Assembly killed proposals to get a grip on sprawl. Last year, Virginia refused to sign on to some of the important goals agreed to by every other jurisdiction draining into the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Virginia refuses to crack down on the airplane-directed menhaden fleet at the mouth of the Chesapeake, which is emptying the Bay of baitfish and upsetting its ecological balance. Two weeks ago, Virginia refused to go along with Maryland’s request to reduce the harvest of horseshoe crabs by 50 percent.

Now they want to suck up the Potomac during a protracted drought.

We don’t think Virginia has much of a case. If we start undoing old compacts and treaties, Native Americans will end up reclaiming much of the United States.

The Supreme Court case is being framed in the media as a ruckus between two governors, Maryland’s Parris Glendening and Virginia’s Jim Gilmore, a Democrat and a Republican who don’t much like each other. It’s more than that.

It’s about competing values. And it’s about pressure on the Potomac River, which dumps into the Chesapeake Bay. In this case, we all live downstream — you, me, and all of us being sued.

Copyright 2000
Bay Weekly