Lawmakers from the Bay states are calling on their colleagues to fully support Bay restoration efforts by funding Chesapeake-related activities at - or above - levels requested in the president's 1998 budget request.

The letters, produced by Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, R-Md., call the Bay Program "a model of effective partnerships between federal, state, and local governments" and seek continued support for the Chesapeake offices of three agencies, the EPA, the Fish & Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The letters were signed by about two-thirds of the 31 Congress members from the Bay watershed. The letters were sent to the chairmen of key appropriations subcommittees.

They called for a boost in funding for the EPA's Chesapeake Bay Program Office in Annapolis to $19.77 million - the same amount as this year. The president's budget had included a slight cut, to $19.68 million, for the 1998 fiscal year which begins Oct. 1.

As the lead federal participant in the Bay cleanup, the EPA's Bay office works to coordinate activities among state and local governments as well as a host of federal agencies.

"The EPA Chesapeake Bay Program activities are exactly consistent with the priorities of this Congress," the letter states. "Greater than 50 percent of appropriated funds go to the states for implementation of nonregulatory programs and, on a competitive grant basis, to universities, local governments and nonprofit organizations to address pollution prevention, water quality, toxins reductions, volunteer citizen monitoring, and public outreach and education. Additional funds support Baywide computer modeling and ongoing monitoring programs in Virginia and Maryland."

In addition, the letter calls for restoring $1.3 million to study the impact of atmospheric deposition on the Bay, money that was deleted from the administration's budget for next year.

The Congress members also called for funding NOAA's Chesapeake Bay Office at $1.89 million. That is the same amount the office got this year, but is an increase from the $1.5 million proposed in the president's budget. NOAA directs Bay research in fisheries stock assessments, toxics, remote sensing and aquatic habitat restoration.

"In a region whose economy is largely driven by the health of its natural resources, accurate assessments of commercially and recreationally important finfish and shellfish stocks, the collection of reliable data concerning nutrient and toxin levels in its waters, and the preservation of vital habitat is not to be compromised," the letter stated.

The Congress members also called for fully funding NOAA's National Sea Grant College Program at $54.3 million, noting that Sea Grant research, particularly efforts focused on the Bay's oyster disease problem, is critical for the Chesapeake.

The lawmakers also requested that funding for the USF&WS's Chesapeake Bay Field Office be maintained at the administration's requested level of $2.69 million. They cited the office's role in restoring habitat in the watershed, providing technical assistance on wetlands, anadromous fish research and protection, biological monitoring, runoff pollution control and building public awareness.

"The field office works cooperatively with numerous state and federal agencies and local governments and organizations to restore and protect the natural resources that make the Bay such a unique and important ecosystem," the letter stated. "In these days of budgetary belt-tightening, we should seek to hold up cost-effective result-oriented programs such as these."

Besides Gilchrest, the letters were signed by the following representatives: Maryland: Robert Ehrlich (R), Ben Cardin (D), Albert Wynn (D), Steny Hoyer (D), Roscoe Bartlett (R), Elijah Cummings (D) and Constance Morella (R). Virginia: Herbert Bateman (R), Norman Sisisky (D), and James Moran Jr. (D). Owen Pickett (D) signed all but the EPA letter. Pennsylvania: Tim Holden (D); Curt Weldon (R), Robert Borski (D) and George Gekas (R). District of Columbia: Eleanor Holmes Norton (D). Delaware: Michael Castle (R). New York: Sherwood Boehlert (R), Maurice Hinchey (D).