And the Winners Are...Politics
Vol. 9, No. 33
August 16-22, 2001
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Bay Hero
Congressman Wayne Gilchrest
In asking Bay Weekly readers to choose a Bay Hero, we hoped they would look for a person who not only appreciates Chesapeake Country for the treasure that it is but also recognizes that, like all treasures, the Chesapeake needs protecting. Furthermore, we hoped the readers would choose a person out there fighting everyday for the Bay.

Bay Weekly readers found such a Hero in Congressman Wayne T. Gilchrest.

Representing Maryland’s First District in the U.S. Congress, Gilchrest had no prior political experience before being elected to the House in 1990. Redistricting following the 1990 census left Gilchrest, a Republican, representing both his native Eastern Shore and the traditionally more liberal Annapolis. In the 2000 election, he won with 67 percent of the vote.

Born and raised on the Eastern Shore, Gilchrest is now raising a family of his own in Kent Island. He served in Vietnam and later studied rural poverty in Appalachia. In 1986 he literally packed up the family and moved to the wilds of Idaho, more or less living off the land. He worked as a house painter and as a school teacher before joining Congress.

Gilchrest serves on the House’s Science Committee and the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. But it is as chair of the Fisheries, Conservation, Wildlife and Oceans subcommittee within the Resources Committee that Gilchrest has his greatest impact in safeguarding the Bay - and America’s natural treasures.

The congressman gave Bay Weekly a few minutes during the busy last days before Congress’s summer recess. An avid canoeist, Gilchrest had just finished a morning kayak trip at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge and was on his way to a meeting at the Chesapeake Bay Program offices in Eastport.

WG: Thank the people who chose me [as Bay Hero]. It’s a great honor.

BW: What do you consider the best thing about Chesapeake Country?

WG: The Bay. The people and the energy of the people who want to save the Bay. The hope that they feel for our environment is contagious - their work to hold onto a culture, a way of life.

What’s your biggest gripe about Chesapeake Country?

WG: Too many motor boats. More people should leave the fuel at home and paddle. Try to imagine what it would be like to be a fish with countless power boats and jet skis racing above you. It would be like having a million jets flying overhead. Not to mention the turbidity, the sediment and the shoreline erosion.

BW: Where is your favorite place to commune with nature?

WG: A little place between Turner’s Creek and Lloyd’s Creek.

BW: What do you see as the best use of public money?

WG: Purchasing development rights to sensitive lands. Land trusts. Easements. Restoration of fish habitat and oysters.

BW: What do you see as the worst use of public money?

WG: The law of unintended consequences, so that public funds wind up helping to develop sprawl. Whenever you extend a highway, widen a road, build a bypass, build a sewage treatment plant without protection for habitat, for wildlife, then you’re not conserving but destroying more habitat. We should be developing suburbs and subdivisions for birds and wildlife.

BW: What’s the best thing to happen to the Bay in the past year?

WG: Maryland and Virginia getting together to restore whole oyster reefs, not just oyster bars. We have to have at least one good thing a year. And what we’re doing here, we’re replicating around the nation and around the world.

BW: In our Best of the Bay survey, readers identified the crab population decline as the issue in need of the most attention. As chair of the House fisheries subcommittee, what insights do you have on the state of crabs in the Bay?

WG: It should be no surprise, whether with the crab population or a whole range of fisheries. There’s a decline around the globe due to human activity and the degradation of water quality. These are issues that won’t go away until humans become more knowledgeable about the intricacies of the food web and ecosystems.

The scientific assessment of the decline in crabs has been done in a very credible way. It’s a signal that we have to take into account the whole structure of the ecosystem.

Until we stop thinking that milk comes from a carton that comes from the grocery store, we will have these problems. We need to understand that the sun feeds the grass and the grass feeds the cow: That’s the start of a glass of milk. We need to understand the connectedness of environmental issues.

Some people want to conserve land, and some people want to make a lot of money building on land. There’s a relentless effort to live in balance. But the people building are building on a day-to-day basis.

Biggest Bay Zero
We live where we live because the Chesapeake Bay is a beautiful and appealing place. We can be thankful that in our part of the Bay, we have few dirty manufacturing plants pouring nasty effluent into water.

On the other hand, we have nitrogen pouring in from old sewage plants, septic systems and the addiction of some Baysiders to green-lawn chemicals. Sprawl compounds all of these problems.

When people in our survey sized up the biggest threat to the Bay, they worried that our beloved Chesapeake will become spoiled. While many weren’t specific, there was wide agreement on the Biggest Bay Zero and Bay Enemy Number One. That dubious distinction (drum roll, please) goes to pollution.

Best Use of Public Funds
Greenspace, land trusts.
What do we pay all those taxes for, anyway? There’s police protection, which everybody needs, and repair of the roads that all of us use (except those who suffer from agoraphobia and don’t leave their homes). We pay for schools, of course, and we support government that looks out for our interests.

But when we asked readers to tell us their feeling about the best use of tax dollars, such expenditures rarely came up. How Bay Weekly readers responded told us a lot about their attitudes toward recreation and the outdoors.

When you said that the Best Use of Public Funds was creating land trusts and carving out greenspace for conservation, recreation and aesthetics, you sent a signal to political leaders that you will be watching how they spend your money.

Worst Use of Public Funds
Ravens/PSI Net Stadium
“I love it,” said Bill Burton, who’s led the Bay Weekly awareness campaign against this unforgiven 1990’s boondoggle.

Now Bay Weekly readers have agreed with what Burton has said all along: In pouring public money into a stadium with the nonsensical, flew-by-night name, Maryland has missed many more worthy opportunities, foremost of which is improvement of the Bay. Said Burton, “The state and the city wanted a team in Baltimore so badly that they’d have traded the Bay to Cleveland to get their team back. Instead, they shorted our Bay for Art Modell.”

Best Fund-raiser
Cancer Crusade Gala
Where else can you and all your friends eat, drink and be merry while helping raise a million dollars to fight cancer? Where else would you want to?

You’d have to go some distance to better the vista afforded by Rod ‘n’ Reel of Chesapeake Bay under a full moon. What do you like to eat better than the lobster and cheesecake that you can find arrayed here? If champagne doesn’t suit you, drink beer. Or martinis.

Bay Weekly readers weren’t kidding. They came out in force again this year, breaking the $200,000 barrier with a record $235,000 (when organizers were still counting) going to fight cancer through local support, state research and national collaboration.

Best Effort to Improve the Environment
Chesapeake Bay Foundation (oyster recovery)
The importance of restoring oysters to the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem cannot be overestimated, a fact recognized by Bay Weekly readers when they chose Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s oyster restoration program as the Best Effort to Improve the Environment.

Oysters are vital to improving water quality because they filter out harmful nutrient and sediment pollution. CBF’s Oyster Corps - a volunteer army of more than 800 citizen oyster gardeners and 160 schools throughout Maryland and Virginia - joined forces with state and federal agencies and other private groups to establish eight new reefs and plant two million oysters to clean more water and provide more habitat for rockfish, crabs and other marine species.

Issue Needing More Attention
Crabs ~ Sprawl
Pondering what we need to think about in Chesapeake Country is a heavy thing to do when we’re focused these days on getting the most out of these glorious days of summer. But last spring, dozens of you were brave enough to try it, and the results indicated a remarkable consensus. The troubling decline of blue crabs in Bay waters ranked at the top or near it on many scorecards.

But heading most lists of the biggest Issue Needing More Attention was sprawl.

Some who responded used the word overdevelopment to describe what they fear most. However it was phrased, our readers made clear their belief that sprawl is the biggest threat to high-quality living along the Chesapeake Bay.

Best Place to Dump Baltimore’s Dredge Spoils
The people have spoken, and they’ve told Mayor O’Malley and the Port Authority where they can stick it - the dredge spoils, that is. Voters rarely got block-specific about where in town to dump the spoils, but based on other voted sentiments, PSI Net Stadium is a favorite choice. Though not an option likely favored by proponents of urban renewal, this would do wonders to preserve hotly contested sites in the open Bay and off the Eastern Shore.

Best Thing to Happen to the Bay in 2000
Stop dredging ~ Tall ships
For months, readers told us they were horrified at plans to dump thousands of tons of muck from Baltimore Harbor in the Chesapeake near the Bay Bridge. Such open-dumping defied logic, but state planners stuck to their guns until finally forced to back down.

Meanwhile, Marylanders were thrilled anticipating the arrival the 30 tall ships flotilla working its way up the Chesapeake Bay. Baltimore was one of the host cities in 2000 for Operation Sail, organized 40 years ago by President John F. Kennedy to promote international unity.

When readers were asked to pick the Best Thing to Happen to the Bay last year, these two events were foremost on their minds: The cancellation at Site 104 - as the Bay dump site was dubbed - and the visit by the tall sailing vessels from as far away as Indonesia. (We’re happy that the ships didn’t pass by barges muddying the water with harbor spoils.)

Worst Thing to Happen to the Bay in 2000
Patuxent Oil Spill
Sadly, Bay Weekly readers had no problem identifying the worst environmental disaster in Chesapeake Country in 2000: the oil spill on the Patuxent River, one of the worst ecological catastrophes on record.

On April 7, a ruptured pipeline at PEPCO’s Chalk Point power plant spewed 126,000 gallons of oil into Swanson Creek and the river, killing hundreds of animals, poisoning fish and shellfish, destroying acres of sensitive wetlands and disrupting the lives of the people who call the Patuxent home. The unnatural presence of containment booms, oil-skimming barges and heavy equipment was a nightmare for all who love this special river.

On one of the Bay’s crown jewels, the oil spill has been a harsh lesson about the fragility of the natural resources and our role as caretakers of these resources for future generations.

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