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Volume 16, Issue 33 - August 14 - August 20, 2008

The Law of the Bay

Sew up the loopholes and enforce it

Not In My Backyard.

No. You are not re-reading a Bay Weekly of a couple weeks back when this writer fussed about those who would go along with just about anything new and different — as long as it wasn’t in their backyards. But the week the ink was dry on that column, along came the perfect example of the object of my ire.

Committing it was none other than members of the Anne Arundel County Council, a batch of politicians I think of as Do Nothings, as compared with the dastardly Know Nothings of national political yore, who played on the fears of citizens, inflaming them against the pope, Catholics, immigrants and anyone who wasn’t born here.

The timid council’s actions and reactions usually correspond to the will of those who own and live on the Chesapeake and its tributaries.

I sum up their thinking this way: We’ve got ours, intend to keep and rule what is ours, and because of our holdings we know best about what is best for the Chesapeake. We are the chosen few.

Hogwash, responds this writer, who happens to be for nearly 40 years the owner and resident of three lots of waterview property near the mouth of Stoney Creek, which flows into the Patapsco an easy trolling distance from the upper Chesapeake itself.

Long before I ever thought of living on its shores, I came to realize that if the troubled Bay was to be saved, others must have meaningful access. How can we expect them to pay for, help pass the laws and practice good Bay stewardship if they have little say and less access?

Case in Point

Pressured by the haves, some of whom attended the County Council meeting on deserving legislation to tighten regulations and enforcement primarily on land within a thousand feet of the shore of the Bay and its tributaries, our fearless council backed off. In so doing, they gave the not-in-my-backyard theme a new twist. It was billed as who should be given authority to save the Bay.

It remains apparent that the council doesn’t want the authority to handle controversial issues. GOP councilman C. Edward Middlebrooks summed up the opposition clearly when, according to The Sun, he said, “If the state wants to make it their initiative, then let them do it. I don’t want to be a part of depriving basic rights of our citizens.”

Does the esteemed politician think that I, a citizen, have not the right to demand that others who own property within a thousand feet of the Chesapeake complex abide by the same rules of stewardship as I do? I have rights in this, too.

Does he really think that county action won’t beef up state action? Does he ignore the obvious: The more who climb aboard the save-the-Bay initiative, the faster and more effective will be actual Bay restoration efforts? Is he ignoring the thinking of fellow republican and County Executive John R. Leopold who considers it important to crack down on illegal building along the county’s shoreline?

Or does he agree with Council chairwoman and fellow GOP’er Cathleen M. Vitale, who had the audacity to say, if quoted correctly, that she is concerned that many violations of the 1,000-foot rule stem from lack of understanding of regulations? Is she absolving property owners of responsibility in learning how they must protect the valuable and environmentally sensitive land they own?

The village idiot knows the easiest way to successfully skirt the 1,000-foot restrictions is to go ahead and do it, then plead ignorance and hope for the best in negotiations or arguments in the courts. That way, you buy time, sometimes exemptions — and you make standing laws a mockery.

The dozens among the standing-room-only crowd at the council chambers wearing T-shirts that read Stop the Zoning Gestapo won the day. But the county exec says the bill will probably be reintroduced.

That won’t please Republican Del. Don Dwyer, who as usual when involved in Bay matters turns to the tired old citizen-rights theme; harassment and intimidation. He’s the booster of those who have an issue with government, which of course, gets the votes of those who sympathize with those bucking the system whether right or wrong.

Unless we can somehow wipe such thinking from Bay considerations, how can we win the fight?

You Pay to Play

I think back to when half of a nearly 50-year-old peach tree on my Riviera Beach lawn was dying, the other half already dead. Not only an eyesore but a potential danger to anyone under it and no longer bearing any peaches. Its time had come. It would have been easy to cut it down — had it been about 100 feet to the west and beyond the Bay’s 1,000-foot limit. But it wasn’t.

A commercial tree operation looked the situation over, told me the dead half of the tree, not much bigger than a household Christmas tree, could be removed for $150. To include the other half would cost another $400 due to the permit process. A replacement old enough to guarantee peach in my waning years would cost another $250. That was expensive, but I opted for it as a responsibility that goes with choosing to live so close to the Bay.

Shortly thereafter, Tropical Storm Elizabeth felled both the dying and dead sides of my peach, and I had some peach chips for smoking fish, larger peach logs for the fireplace — and was saved more than $750. But, sans the force of Liz’s winds, I would have been obliged to pay that sum out of pocket. Costs to those who build, cut, trim and grade legally are much more. The penalty for illegally modifying shoreside living via compensation to county and state for trees lost isn’t cheap. It can’t be if it is to cover the price of mandated environmental rehabilitation.

Sympathize with the underdogs if you must. But realize that dragging feet doesn’t accomplish much more than heel and toe marks in the sand. To give programs teeth, the letter of the law must be applied immediately, effectively and, if need be, forcefully.

We have had enough placating those who pollute or defy environmental reasoning. It has been tried and failed, and at great loss of time, effort and environment. It’s time to unleash the pit bulls. Enough said.

© COPYRIGHT 2008 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.