Final piece of Chapman's Landing saved from development

The state of Maryland and a private foundation have purchased Chapman’s Landing in Charles County, ending a decade-long battle by environmentalists to prevent the development of 2,225-acres of forested land on the Potomac River.

The property was purchased from Legend Properties, with the Richard King Mellon Foundation buying 375 acres for $3.2 million and the state paying $25.3 million for 1,850 acres.

Legend Properties had planned to build a city of 12,000 residents that would have included 4,600 homes, a golf course and 2.25 million square feet of office and retail space.

Maryland environmental groups scored a major victory this summer when Gov. Parris Glendening agreed to use state funds to buy most of the land. But the governor told them they had to find the money to buy the remaining 375 acres. The Mellon foundation agreed to buy the land and turn it over to the state to manage.

Joy Oakes of the Maryland chapter of the Sierra Club said the property is valuable for environmental and historic reasons.

The site includes Mount Aventine, a 630-acre antebellum plantation once owned by Nathaniel Chapman, a friend and business associate of George Washington’s father.

The large tract of unbroken forested land helps protect water quality in the Potomac and underground aquifers, and provides important animal habitat, including nesting areas for eagles and several species of declining songbirds.

“The fishery on the south side of the forest is the healthiest fishery in Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay,” Oakes said. “Migratory fish come back to little clear streams like those in Chapman’s forest to lay their eggs.”

State funds to buy the land came from Program Open Space, which has been used to preserve hundreds of thousands of acres of land throughout Maryland. The Department of Natural Resources will manage the entire 2,225 acres, making it available for limited public use, including hiking.

The battle between the developer and environmental groups, fought out in court and before state and federal agencies, dragged on for years because the stakes were high for both sides.

The site offered huge potential economic returns for the developer and would have provided a substantial economic boost to Charles County.

But the development was opposed by many area residents, who feared the congestion it would bring to a largely rural area of Charles County.

For years, environmentalists fought what seemed at times to be a losing battle, but won in the end because Glendening agreed to step in and come up with money to buy most of the land.

“Gov. Glendening deserves a huge amount of credit. Today would not have been possible without his leadership and his willingness to learn more about the cost of developing Chapman forest and the benefits of saving it,” Oakes said.

The key to success was “endless pressure endlessly applied everywhere,” she said.

DE nutrient runoff programs fall short

Delaware’s voluntary programs to reduce nutrient runoff from poultry farms have fallen short and Gov. Thomas Carper recognizes that more aggressive measures may be necessary, state officials say.

While officials grappling with the problem of nutrient runoff did not characterize the stance as a reversal, they did acknowledge an overwhelming need to put a new program in place.

“What we see is that something is not doing the job fully. We are recognizing that something more needs to be done,” said Sheri Woodruff, the governor’s press secretary.

It is uncertain whether the administration will have to place mandatory regulations on Delaware’s chicken industry or find a compromise between poultry companies, growers and the government that would meet expected federal standards without hurting business.

State officials have long been protective of the poultry industry and hoped that voluntary programs, like those to help farmers buy sheds to protect manure during storms, would vastly improve water quality.

But in the last year, the pressure to reduce nutrient runoff from manure has increased dramatically.

First, some scientists linked runoff from manure, often used by farmers as a crop fertilizer, with outbreaks of Pfiesteria piscicida, a microorganism that killed thousands of fish in rivers on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

Then, the EPA unveiled a draft proposal to regulate poultry farms, particularly those in areas like Delaware, where most of the rivers and creeks are saturated with nutrients.

Carper convened an advisory committee to consider a response to the federal plan: A draft report released this fall said growers and poultry companies must find ways to meet water quality goals.

“The current primary reliance on land application for manure/litter by integrators (poultry companies) and growers is not sustainable,” it said.

Delaware is already under a court order to improve water quality by reducing the amount of nutrients, such as phosphorous and nitrogen, entering its waterways. Standards are being developed to comply with that order.

The state is investigating ways to reduce runoff — such as burning manure for energy or using additives to reduce the amount of nutrients in chicken waste. There is also the possibility of transporting the manure to areas where nutrient runoff is not a problem.

“The fact that this is going on is great,” said Sergio Huerta, with the state Division of Water Resources. “This is moving forward now. All the sides are talking with each other.”

State officials say they would rather the EPA simply set standards for water quality and let them come up with ways of meeting them, rather than enacting regulations which could hurt business.

Dismal Swamp shrew may be removed from threatened list

Federal wildlife officials have proposed removing the Dismal Swamp southeastern shrew, native to the lowlands straddling the North Carolina-Virginia border, from the threatened species list.

The shrew, a 4-inch-long creature weighing less than an ounce, has been listed as a threatened species since 1986. During a survey that year, the shrew’s habitat was believed to be restricted only to the Dismal Swamp’s boundaries in extreme southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina.

“Research during recovery efforts found that shrew numbers are at healthy levels, are found in a variety of habitats in Virginia and North Carolina and are genetically secure,” said Ronald E. Lambertson, regional director of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

He said his agency believes the shrew no longer needs protection under the Endangered Species Act and formally proposed removing the shrew from the threatened species list.

Shrews eat insects and feed owls, hawks and snakes. They must consume two to three times their own weight each day to survive, because they are constantly in motion and have an extremely high metabolism.

Fish & Wildlife Service officials began recovery efforts in 1986. In 1994 and 1995, biologists found shrews on the coastal plain of eastern North Carolina and across southeastern Virginia that were similar to the Dismal Swamp southeastern shrew.

Worth noting:

  • Energy-wise: Richmond, VA, is in the running to become the nation’s first “Energy Star City,” the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported. In order for cities to apply for the designation, which is given by the EPA, they must have a plan of action to provide energy-efficient, affordable housing and at least one house built that has been tested by a certified energy-efficiency rater. A five-star level home must be 30 percent more energy-efficient than the city’s building code requirements.
  • Refuge expansion: The federal government has purchased 825 acres on Virginia’s Fisherman’s Island at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay to block development of the land, which is home to bald eagles, peregrine falcons and the state’s largest nesting colonies of brown pelicans and royal terns. The $1.6 million acquisition is the latest addition to the Eastern Shore National Wildlife Refuge.
  • Leaking landfills: More than 100 Virginia landfills are leaking pollution into groundwater, according to a top state environmental official. Tests at 168 of 250 landfills show some apparent contamination of groundwater. Hassan Vekili, director of waste coordination for the state Department of Environmental Quality, estimates that leaking landfills account for 90 percent of those cases. Virginia imports approximately 3.2 million tons of garbage per year, second in the United States after Pennsylvania.
  • Nixing the Internet: Environmental groups are opposing a plan by the Norfolk District of the Army Corps of Engineers to cut costs by using the Internet to inform the public about pending environmental projects instead of sending direct notices in the mail. District officials, who regulate wetlands and navigational projects across Virginia, seek to save money, paper, and staff time by switching to an electronic notification system. But the Chesapeake Bay Foundation has questioned whether the plan would violate federal regulations ensuring open government and public participation. Ann Jennings of CBF said the Corps is “thinking correctly” to reduce paper and overhead while providing information. But she said the plan is “premature” because “not everyone’s hooked up to the Internet, or even knows what it is.”