Volume 12, Issue 11 ~ March 11-17, 2004

Current Issue
Dock of the Bay
Letters to the Editor
Bay Reflections
Burton on the Bay
Not Just for Kids
Chesapeake Outdoors
Sky Watch
8 Days a Week
Music Notes
Museum Visitor
Curtain Call
Movie Times
Bay Weekly in Your Mailbox
Print Advertising Rates
Distribution Spots
Behind Bay Weekly
Contact Us

Powered by

Search bayweekly.com
Search WWW

Chesapeake Outdoors
by C.D. Dollar

Hearing the Flush Tax
A watershed event in the struggle for a healthier Bay

In a recent issue of Bay Weekly, our sagacious editor expressed her passion for the rough-and-tumble world of Maryland politics. I can’t say I share her enthusiasm. My blood gets going when a tuna burns off 100 yards of line in 30 seconds, or when Canadas set their wings as pretty as you please. I get fired up when I see the first osprey of the year, as I did on Sunday when a young fish hawk glided over the Chester River.

In the political arena, I do, however, pay attention to two things: insidious attempts to curtail free speech and legislation that affects the environment and our natural resources.
Last week, I watched democracy in action at the House Environmental Matters Committee hearing on House Bill 555, which would help reduce water pollution by upgrading Maryland’s 66 largest sewage treatment plants. (The Senate heard a companion bill March 11.)

Dubbed the “flush tax” because it would charge $2.50 per month for residential sewer users (businesses would be charged $2.50 for every 250 gallons of discharge), the bill would fund the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund. The governor estimates that $1 billion could be raised to help pay for retrofitting and equipping sewage facilities with modern technology. With that technology, plants could collectively reduce their nitrogen output by more than nine million pounds.

Testifying in support of the measure were the state’s heavy hitters, past and present. To pitch his initiative, Gov. Ehrlich sent his top cabinet officials, including the secretaries of natural resources, environment and tourism. Presidents of sporting groups, commercial fishing interests and environmental watchdog organizations took their turns at the microphone.

Two giants in the three-decades long effort to restore the Bay also testified in support of the bill. Former Maryland U.S. Senator Charles McC. Mathias, one of the greatest Bay champions, traveled nearly 500 miles around the Chesapeake in 1973 to see firsthand the Bay’s declining condition and hear the troubles of the people most affected.

Former Gov. Harry Hughes spoke eloquently about the merits of this sewage bill. It was under Hughes’ watch that the state joined the multi-jurisdictional restoration effort and took steps to ban phosphates. That act, some say, was the last real effective legislation to restrict pollution flowing into the Bay.

Yet some lawmakers and the governor’s office wrangle over details such as who pays.

None of us want a new tax, even when couched as a surcharge. But the alternative — more talk and no action in cleaning up the polluted Chesapeake — is far more expensive.
I like to think the hearing was a watershed event in the struggle for a healthier Chesapeake, a moment future generations can point to as evidence that democracy works, the common good triumphs and the community shares the load. Cleaner water means more fish, crabs and underwater grasses as well as healthier places to swim and paddle.

Ten years down the road, as that big rockfish explodes through a thick mat of widgeon grass, inhaling the fly, causing my reel to scream, I’ll smile, remembering I was there to see it happen.

Fish Are Biting
Yellow and white perch runs are in full swing in local creeks, including offshoots of the Wye, Patuxent and Severn rivers. In Virginia’s coastal waters, trollers are catching huge rockfish, and pound-netters at the mouth of the Potomac have taken croaker. On March 15, the Susquehanna Flats catch-and-release season opens. Check DNR’s website for regulations.

to the top

© COPYRIGHT 2004 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.
Last updated March 12, 2004 @ 1:37am.