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Volume 15, Issue 23 ~ June 7 - June 13, 2007


Bernie’s Patuxent Plea: No Waiting After Wade-In

“We no longer have the luxury of time,” says 83-year-old former state senator Bernie Fowler, of Broomes Island.

He doubts he will live to see the recovery of his beloved Patuxent, Maryland’s longest river, rising and ending within our state. He fears that neither you nor I will live to see that happy day. For already the wait has stretched, seemingly, as long as that river’s 110 miles.

Fowler ticks off the milestones marking the length of that wait: Chesapeake Bay Agreements in 1983, 1987 and 2000. “None of them,” he says, “has panned out.”

The Patuxent, he says, paved the way to those agreements. For that river’s sake, in 1977, as a state senator, Fowler led a three-county suit to force the state and federal governments to reduce the polluting nutrient effluent of sewage treatment plants. On that river, nitrogen was proved the “big bad guy” in water pollution.

He’s lobbied four governors — Harry Hughes, Parris Glendening, Robert Ehrlich and Martin O’Malley — to make the Patuxent the model of waterway cleanup.

Ehrlich hugged him and praised, Fowler says, “a hell of a good idea.” But instead of the Patuxent, Ehrlich named the 10-mile-long Corsica River the target of his Watershed Restoration Program.

“It was like trading a biscuit for a barrel of flour,” Fowler says.

Now, on the eve of the 20th anniversary of his public relations masterpiece, his legendary and duplicated Patuxent River Wade In on the second Sunday in June, Fowler says, “I think we have our greatest opportunity in a long time.”

Wading into the river arm in arm with Fowler will be Gov. Martin O’Malley, who has already listened — twice — as Fowler, backed by influential friends, sought his support for an “action plan” to clean the Patuxent, making a template for restoring the Bay.

In the second meeting, in March, Fowler reports, Shari Wilson, director of the Department of the Environment, told the governor a plan could be completed in six months.

“I really think in my heart he’d like to do it,” says Fowler.

Linking arms at the Wade In as well will be many of those powerful friends: Rep. Steny Hoyer, the majority leader of the U.S. House; Mike Miller, president of the Maryland Senate; Sen. Roy Dyson; Del. Sue Kullen.

“The stars are out there shining,” says Fowler of the alignment that gives him allies in every position of power, including Maryland House Speaker Michael Busch. “If we don’t take advantage of them, shame on us.”

On June 10, Fowler and his influential friends will be twisting, as well as linking, arms with a governor who campaigned as an environmentalist and, Fowler says, “so far has been true to his word.”

Not, says the gentlemanly, soft-spoken Fowler, “that I want to put any pressure on the governor.”

On the other hand, Fowler says, “I’d love to see that river thoroughly cleaned before I leave this earth.”

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