Twelve years ago, political leaders from the Bay states were presented with a draft document, scrupulously prepared by their staffs, that outlined a course of action for restoring the Chesapeake Bay. In a visionary move that surprised everyone, these leaders proclaimed that the document did not go far enough to enact the changes needed to set us on the course to improve the Bay. With red pen in hand, they set forth a series of ambitious, measurable goals for the Bay states, including what has become the keystone of Bay restoration — 40 percent nutrient reduction by the year 2000.
We sit now at the brink of the new century with a similar opportunity before us. In early December, the Executive Council will meet, as their predecessors did 12 years ago, and be presented with a document that their staffs have prepared.
Although I have not viewed the final draft that will be presented to them, I ponder whether this Council will be able to recognize any deficiencies that may be inherent in this document and be bold enough to take a red pen to strengthen them.
Despite the dozens of people who have spent thousands of hours drafting the current version, once the Council releases the document for public comment, it will unmistakably have their stamp and name on it. Unlike their 1987 counterpart, this Executive Council has one gigantic tool at their disposal: guidance from the most extensive public input process that the Chesapeake Bay Program has ever undertaken.
Recognizing that this effort would require extensive support from the public, the founders of the Bay restoration movement created the Citizens Advisory Committee to provide the Executive Council with one gauge by which to measure public input about proposed actions. A 25-member committee with representatives appointed by each of the four Bay jurisdictions, the CAC contains citizens from all walks of life: environmentalists, businesses and industry, the development and building community and others.
With resounding agreement that exceeded anything I have seen in my eight years as a committee member, in early May, the CAC developed a set of three priorities that they felt a new agreement just had to contain:
- A strong commitment to achieving and, at a minimum, maintaining the 40 percent nutrient reduction goal set forth in the 1987 agreement;
- A clear, unambiguous commitment to addressing the problems of unmanaged and uncontrolled growth, integrating transportation policies, land conversion and restoring the infrastructure in our existing developed areas; and
- A commitment to engaging the public in the restoration of the Chesapeake Bay that goes well beyond communication and education, and which fosters an increased awareness in the public to incorporate the Bay into their daily lifestyle decisions.
At the same time that the CAC was developing these priorities, the Chesapeake Bay Program and the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay were conducting a comprehensive project to solicit views from a broader public. Through a series of focus groups, individual interviews and mail surveys to a wide cross section of the Bay public, the “Chesapeake Renewal” project directly gathered the input of more than 1,200 individuals of diverse backgrounds from throughout the Bay watershed.
Somewhat surprising to some, but perhaps more a testimonial to the representative nature of the CAC, the findings of the Chesapeake Renewal project tracked closely with the three priorities of CAC! These 1,200 citizens ranked managing growth, educating for behavior change, and nutrient reductions/maintaining the cap as the top three emerging issues for the Chesapeake 2000 Agreement.
Further scrutiny reveals that these views were held by a wide range of individuals from all jurisdictions. Citizens from rural and urban areas, from Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia all highlighted “growth management” as a priority. As with the CAC position, the term “growth management” appeared to be used broadly. Integration of the transportation infrastructure, managing to reduce sprawl, revitalizing existing urban areas to be more attractive for business and living, and protecting unique natural resource areas were among the facets incorporated into growth management.
Reaching the nutrient goal should be on track in the new agreement. After all, the Executive Council set this goal in 1987, reaffirming it in 1992 and 1997 along with the added commitment to maintain it. No new evidence has come to light since the last commitment to warrant this Executive Council to weaken or back away from their predecessors’ goal.
But managing growth (and all that it encompasses) and engaging the public are tough political and logistical issues. Not surprisingly, it is these very areas that have been the greatest struggle for the crafters of the draft Chesapeake 2000 agreement.
Perhaps this is because we don’t know how to define managed growth, and at present, we don’t know how to engage the broad citizenry of more than 14 million people in the four jurisdictions. Is it like the classical definition of art: I don’t know how to define it but I know it when I see it?
One thing is certain: The public is expecting the leadership of the Bay Program to define constructive solutions to these problems. Judging from the broad support for these concepts, anything less can be expected to be viewed as weak or lacking in vision when their product is released for public comment in January.
Both public engagement and growth management involve risk. Both will require “letting go” and stepping more outside of the traditional natural resources agencies that have dominated the Bay Program to involve to a greater degree public and private sector experts in communication, transportation, urban planning and a plethora of other fields.
Any change in the way that we do business involves risk, but it is only with risk that some of the greatest advances are made.
The signers of the 1983 and 1987 Agreements created a legacy — a bold beginning to address the fundamental problems facing the Bay. Did they have all the facts about reducing nutrients? Most certainly, the answer is “no” but they had enough evidence to point them in the right direction. Because of this, we are all beneficiaries of their vision, for the Bay restoration has moved from restoring the Chesapeake Bay proper to caring for the environment “in our own backyard” whether it be in Pennsylvania or the District of Columbia. The signers of the 2000 Agreement have the same opportunity — to create a living legacy that will carry Bay restoration efforts to the next level. They also have the opportunity to create a document that is lost in the annals of history.
I think I stand with my fellow members of the CAC in urging the Council to provide us with a legacy, not a document, that we can point to proudly and say, “I was part of that.”