Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening has vowed to close loopholes “big enough to drive development tractors through” in a law limiting construction along the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.
“I do think it is essential we strengthen the legislation,” Glendening told members of the Chesapeake Bay Critical Areas Commission, which administers the law, during the group’s September meeting.
The critical areas law was adopted in the 1980s to regulate construction within a 1,000-foot buffer zone around the Chesapeake Bay and the tidal waterways that feed into the Bay. Buffers reduce erosion and filter pollutants from rainwater runoff, scientists say.
But three court decisions in the past couple of years have created loopholes, Glendening says, by allowing construction in critical areas as long as builders meet most of the law’s conditions for exceptions.
“The opinions themselves weaken substantially the ability of this commission to do its job,” the governor said.
Glendening said he would introduce legislation during next year’s General Assembly session, his last as governor, to strengthen the law.
A Glendening-backed bill that would have closed the law’s loopholes failed to pass during this year’s General Assembly session.
“I think that the legislature was prepared to approve that ... but one committee became difficult,” the governor said after the meeting. “There’s new leadership on that committee.”
The bill died in the House Natural Resources Committee, chaired by Delegate Ron Guns, D-Cecil. In June, Glendening appointed Guns to the state Public Service Commission, a full-time post that required him to resign from the General Assembly.
Guns’ successor as committee chairman, Delegate John Hurson, D-Montgomery, is considered far more environmentally friendly. His appointment by House Speaker Casper Taylor Jr., D-Allegany, was hailed by environmental groups.
Also, Glendening said he would back legislation to establish limits on construction along the state’s coastal bays, which are not covered under the critical areas law.
“I think it is time for us to take the next step,” he said.
The governor said that if development patterns over the past 25 years in Maryland persist over the next quarter of a century, more land will be taken by construction than has been lost since settlers first arrived on the state’s shores.
“We have a real turning point, almost a crisis, ahead of us,” he said.