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Environmental Center to serve as model for bay cleanup
By PAMELA WOOD, Staff Writer

From growing underwater grasses to nurturing oysters to planting cover crops, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. hopes to use the restoration programs at a Queen Anne's County environmental center as examples for saving the Chesapeake Bay.

Mr. Ehrlich said during a visit yesterday to the Chesapeake Bay Environmental Center in Grasonville that a comprehensive approach is needed as development continues to strain the watershed.

"Maryland will grow, and those pressures will be there," Mr. Ehrlich said.

Maryland must respond by cutting down on excess nutrients, boosting the oyster population and other revitalization methods, he said.

While the state grapples with the proposed introduction of Asian oysters to the watershed, the center will begin building a 5-acre native oyster bed next week, in hopes of applying its findings on a wider scale.

The new bed may not keep the oysters free from disease, said Judy Wink, executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Environmental Center, but it will develop habitat in a bay too sandy in spots to support them.

Other projects on the privately owned, 700-acre preserve already are
underway, such as planting underwatergrasses, replacing bulkheads with natural "living" shorelines and putting large, Swiss cheese-like concrete "reef balls" in the water to attract fish.

Torrey Brown, president of the environmental center and a former natural resources secretary, said it's a perfect location to show off bay restoration techniques.

"It's got every kind of habitat area that surrounds the bay, in one spot," he said. "We're going to make it a fabulous place to show off."

The vegetation, said Ms. Wink, is particularly important because the grasses produce oxygen, and - like oysters - filter pollutants.

But sediment runoff and excess nutrients have choked out many of these grasses, and the center may farm them on a large scale.

Since the diseases Dermo and MSX were first discovered in bay oysters 50 years ago, the state's oyster harvest has progressively plunged to record lows. The 2.5 million-bushel average in the 1970s dropped to 26,000 bushels this past year.

"The plight of the watermen, it's pathetic," said Ms. Wink "They can't harvest enough."

Officials with the state Department of Natural Resources, who are involved with most of the restoration programs, said it's difficult to say how much money the state is putting into the demonstration project. Most of DNR's money for the projects at the center comes through federal grants, and the state's contribution largely is in the form of man hours from state employees.

Mr. Ehrlich said he hopes to get even more money from the federal government to pay for bay restoration programs. Maryland residents already are in line to do their part, by paying the recently-passed extra fees on their water bills to fund $1 billion worth of upgrades to aging sewage treatment plants.

But current federal funding levels are "not even close" to what's needed to clean up the bay, Mr. Ehrlich said.

"We need to continue on a very, very aggressive path," he told reporters after his tour, adding the bay needs more than just "fives and 10s and 20s" from the federal government.


Judson Berger of the Capital News Service contributed to this story.


- No Jumps-

Published November 05, 2004, The Capital, Annapolis, Md.
Copyright 2004 The Capital, Annapolis, Md.

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