Bay Journal

March 1996 - Volume 6 - Number 1

Meltdown ‘96 floods the Bay

First came the "Blizzard of '96" that dumped up to 30 inches of snow on the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Then came what some are calling "Meltdown '96" " the flooding that resulted when warm temperatures and rain melted all that snow in mid-January.

The flooding caused billions of dollars of damage to Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia. It also sent huge amounts of sediments and nutrients into the Chesapeake, flushed by the highest flows since Hurricane Agnes in 1972.

It was the third time in four years that the Bay was hit by an abnormally powerful "freshet" early in the year, and no one could remember any time in recent history that such a series of "high flow" events hit the Chesapeake. ...

Five Republicans seek funding for Bay restoration

Five Republican House members from Maryland and Virginia have sent a letter to House Speaker Newt Gingrich urging that the Bay Program be fully funded this year.

The Bay Program was funded at $21 million -- the same as 1995 -- in the EPA appropriation bills approved by the Republican-controlled Congress. Clinton administration officials have also supported full funding of the Bay cleanup effort.

President Clinton vetoed that appropriation bill because of the cuts it contained for overall EPA funding. When Congress approved a special "continuing resolution" funding the agency at reduced levels from last year, no exception was made for the Bay Program. ...

“Chessie” back at home after Bay trip

Chessie, the roving Florida manatee who visited the Chesapeake Bay the last two summers, has finally made it back home.

The National Biological Service announced Feb. 23 that it had caught and retagged the wide-ranging manatee so that future voyages can be tracked.

Accustomed to warm waters, manatees are most at home around Florida, though they often go as far north as the Carolinas in the summer.

In 1994, when this particular manatee visited the Chesapeake Bay (hence his name), he was captured, fitted with a satellite-monitored radio tag and flown back to Florida. ...

Environmental groups sold on concept for mall

Two years ago, when plans for the Disney's America theme park were abandoned in a hailstorm of environmental criticism, some developers wondered whether any major project could be completed without a similar controversy.

Now, many of the same environmental groups that fought the theme park are praising plans for a 2.1 million-square-foot "American Dream" mall and adjoining 425-room hotel planned for Silver Spring, Md. -- a project the groups say could be a model for sustainable development in the region. ...

Maryland, Virginia announce crabbing restrictions

Maryland and Virginia are continuing to move toward additional restrictions on blue crab catches, though measures in both states are less severe than those being considered only a few months ago.

The Virginia Marine Resources Commission in January adopted a minimum size on soft crab catches and limited both who could get a license and the number of hard crab pots in tributaries in the lower Bay.

But the measures approved after a four-hour public meeting, during which watermen and seafood processors complained about hardships the regulations would pose, were less restrictive than those originally proposed by VMRC staff last November. ...

Two Atlantic sturgeon caught within one week tagged for research

Fishermen reported catching two Atlantic sturgeon -- one of the rarest fish in the Chesapeake Bay -- within a one-week period in February.

One fish was caught Feb. 15 in the Potomac River near Colonial Beach, Va., while the second was captured Feb. 19 near the mouth of the Severn River in Maryland. Each fish weighed about 20 pounds and was about 45 inches long.

"This is a very positive sign," said Jorgen Skeveland, project leader of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Maryland Fisheries Resource Office in Annapolis. "At one time, we feared that sturgeon had been eliminated from the Bay. These sightings have raised our hopes about recovery efforts. We will continue to need help from citizens, especially commercial and recreational fishermen, in locating sturgeon so that we can tag and monitor them." ...

Higher speeds slow nitrogen gain

Increasing the speed limit on highways may also increase smog-causing automobile emissions, increasing pollution to the Chesapeake Bay and making it more difficult for states to meet air quality standards.

An EPA memo sent to the agency's regional offices earlier this year said that auto emissions of nitrogen oxide (NOx) would increase at least 5 percent if all the states raise their speed limits to 65 miles per hour -- something all the Bay states and most of the 12 states in the Chesapeake Bay's 350,000-square-mile airshed have done. ...

Ozone panel to work with Bay, coastal agencies

The Ozone Transport Commission -- the panel charged with reducing the Northeast's chronic summertime smog problem -- has signaled its intention to work more closely with the Chesapeake Bay Program and other coastal and estuarine management agencies.

The action followed a Bay Program presentation aimed at showing how the control of smog-causing air pollutants could also benefit estuaries and coastal waters in the region -- something usually not considered in the development of air pollution control policy. ...

Proposed change in estate tax could be boon for easements

Conservation groups are working with Congress on estate tax reform legislation that would give landowners an incentive to donate conservation easements on their land.

Under existing law, some landowners are reluctant to donate easements on extremely valuable property because when they die, their children could inherit a significant tax burden but, because of the easement, be restricted in their ability to sell a portion of the property to pay the bill.

The American Farm and Ranch Protection Act, now in Congress, would allow people with property subject to a conservation easement to get a larger tax break when the estate tax is calculated. Under the bill, 40 percent of the value of land subject to a conservation easement -- up to $2 million -- could be excluded from the estate tax if it is located within a 25-mile radius of a metropolitan area, national forest, national park or national wilderness area. ...

Family puts preservation above profit

When Bob Payne was about 5 years old, his father bought a farm on Still Pond Neck on Maryland's Eastern Shore. That was in the early 1940s, and Payne has lived there ever since.

"This farm is where I grew up," he said. "It's home. It may seem foolish to you and the whole rest of the world, but I love it. I know you can't stop time in its tracks, but I would like it to stay this way as long as possible."

To do that, he donated a conservation easement on his 150-acre dairy farm to the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy. In doing so, he effectively gave up -- forever -- any potential financial windfall he could gain by selling his land for development. ...

Brandywine Conservancy

The Brandywine Conservancy in Southeastern Pennsylvania was formed in 1967 when a group of people became worried about what a planned 40-acre industrial development on a nearby flood plain would mean for them.

The outlook didn't look good. So they pooled their resources and bought the land, along with an adjoining 10-acre site that had a historic mill on it. Those actions set the stage for the Brandywine Conservancy to become one of the most diverse land trusts in the state.

"Our main focus is water resource protection," said Lucinda Laird, of the conservancy. "And that has led us into a lot of different areas." ...

The Nature Conservancy

Like many land trusts, The Nature Conservancy is interested in land acquisitions and easements to protect local communities. But in its case, those happen to be natural communities.

Recently, the Maryland Chapter of the conservancy launched the Chesapeake Rivers Campaign, aimed at protecting four of the most biologically significant and least disturbed waterways in the region.

Instead of merely purchasing habitats for threatened plants and animals, as the conservancy may have done in the past, the $10 million campaign aims to protect the entire landscape that affects those species and their biological communities through a combination of techniques that included purchases, easements and landowner education. ...

American Chestnut Land Trust

In its decade of existence, the American Chestnut Land Trust has purchased hundreds and hundreds of acres of land that it plans to hold forever. But on some of its recent purchases, the trust has held property for only a matter of minutes.

Like many local land trusts, the group began when landowners banded together to protect their community from approaching development. Largely by digging deep into their own pockets, they put together $500,000 to help purchase a threatened 436-acre tract of land. ...

Trust for Public Lands

At this moment, the Rappahannock River National Wildlife Refuge only exists on paper. But someday soon it will exist in reality: Some of the land for it has already been bought.

Last year, the Trust for Public Land purchased a 1,125-acre tract on Cat Point Creek in Richmond County, Va. Immediately, the trust donated the property to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation to manage in cooperation with the Rappahannock River Resource Council, which will work to enhance wetlands on the site. ...

Ernst Seed: Restoring the Native Balance

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