The Grinch from Richmond

For the Chesapeake, it would have been a swell Christmas present: The governors of Maryland and all the Chesapeake Bay states, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency and the mayor of the District of Columbia meeting last week at the dawn of the new millennium to chart a new set of goals for restoring the Bay.

You could imagine them caroling together in this season of good cheer.

Unfortunately, one of them sang a different tune. Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore rejected what may be the most important part of the regional agreement: cutting by 30 percent the amount of forest and farm land lost to development every year.

That doesn't mean restoring the forests and farm land already disappeared by 30 percent. It simply means agreeing to cut the losses that we continue to suffer every year. To cut them by less than one-third.

It's a shame that Virginia clings to old notions in which development is accorded a higher priority than the integrity of our regional jewel, Chesapeake Bay. Many in our region were dismayed to watch the goings-on under the last Virginia governor, George Allen, who could not bring himself to crack down on industrial polluters or even consider growth management.

We hoped for a new day when Gilmore replaced his fellow Republican. But disappointment is our reward. Aides to Gilmore argued that it's local governments, not his office, responsible for land-use controls. Unfortunately, it was Gilmore's office that fought during the General Assembly to expand those local powers.

This is not a partisan thing, mind you. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, a Republican, was part of the agreement. He recently engineered landmark environmental protections through the Pennsylvania General Assembly. He is among those in his party who understand that sprawl, traffic congestion and additional threats to the Chesapeake do not add up to a high quality of life for his constituents.

There seems to be something deeper going on here, harkening back to Virginia's roots as a commonwealth ruled by a landed gentry that was, in the words of historian David Hackett Fischer, "elitist and libertarian."

It's fine to be wary of government and its rules. But it seems to us that elitism must give way to cooperation when you're dealing with Bay-killing development that impacts the whole region and not just your own back yard.

But in the spirit of the holiday season, we'd like to thank Virginia for signing on to some of the other goals. Among them: establishing a harvest target for blue crabs by 2001; developing programs to stem the loss of wetlands; and setting up "no discharge" zones for boaters by 2003.

Let's just hope that on the big issue, development, the political will of the whole Chesapeake Bay Executive Committee isn't sapped by the selfishness of one of the parts.

| Issue 50 |

Volume VII Number 50
December 16-22, 1999
New Bay Times

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