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 cant 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 Marylands 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 states 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 Bays 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 governors 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, Ill 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 Virginias 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 DNRs website for regulations.
to the top