Concerned about the mounting costs of nutrient control efforts, large metropolitan areas of the Chesapeake watershed want a bigger say in the Bay Program’s decisions.
In a recent meeting with top officials from the Bay jurisdictions, representatives from the region’s largest metropolitan areas said they often pick up the tab for Chesapeake cleanup efforts — such as wastewater treatment plant upgrades — but have no voice in setting policies or goals.
“This is part of a legitimate effort to play a part in what is going on,” said Jack Anderson, of the Baltimore Metropolitan Council, who said the plan was consistent with efforts to involve more stakeholders in the Bay’s decision-making process.
The metropolitan area representatives made their case in April to the Bay Program’s Principals’ Staff Committee meeting, the program’s second-highest decision-making body. Their plan calls for a 26-member workgroup, with metropolitan areas in Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania getting one representative for each 500,000 people.
Under that formula, the Washington, D.C. suburbs would have 8 members; Baltimore 5; Hampton, VA 3; Richmond 2; Harrisburg, 1; Lancaster, PA 1; Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, PA, 1; Lynchburg, VA, 1; Charlottesville, VA, 1; and York, PA 1.
Such a workgroup, the officials said, would allow metropolitan representatives from across the watershed to meet and exchange information about new approaches to planning and urban watershed management.
But a key concern was being able to inject the perspectives of metropolitan areas — which pay much of the cost for such things as wastewater treatment and stormwater management — into Bay Program policy development.
Rose Krasnow, mayor of Rockville, MD, noted that the city had recently agreed to spend $2 million to upgrade a wastewater treatment plant. “As a decision maker in Rockville, we are constantly making decisions that will affect the Bay,” she said.
She and others emphasized the need for metropolitan areas to be at the decision-making table, not only to voice concerns, but also so that the Bay Program could win support for its policies directly from large municipalities. “It’s pointless to have a Chesapeake Bay plan and not be able to implement it at the local level,” Krasnow said.
Bay Program involvement appears to have a strong interest among metropolitan areas. More than 30 representatives attended each of two metropolitan area roundtable discussions in March and April.
The Northern Virginia Planning District Commission recently passed a resolution noting that the Bay Program structure “often results in local governments reacting to new policies and programs rather than participating in their development,” and called for the creation of a new workgroup.
Meanwhile, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments passed a resolution laying out principles for the development of a new Chesapeake Bay Agreement under development by the Bay Program.
The resolution emphasizes that programs should remain voluntary, policies should be based on “sound science,” that efforts need to be equitably divided among regions and sources of nutrients, and that local governments have an adequate voice in policy development because of their significant financial commitments.
The resolution supports the establishment of a new goal to control sediment — the Bay Program has no sediment goal now — but indicates that no further nutrient reductions be sought until the current reduction goals are reached and maintained for several years, allowing the Bay to “experience the full benefits” of the reductions.
The resolution also said the Bay Program should estimate the economic benefits of a restored Chesapeake Bay, then allocate costs needed to achieve that goal equitably among federal, state and local governments.
Members of the Principals’ Staff Committee agreed that metropolitan areas may deserve a greater presence within the Bay Program, but they were reluctant to support the creation of a new committee or workgroup.
The Bay Program does have a Local Government Advisory Committee, but the metropolitan representatives said that group caters more to the needs of small local governments than to the concerns of large, heavily populated areas.
Mike McCabe, Region III administrator for the EPA, said increased representation for large municipalities in the Bay Program is “long overdue.”
“In some capacity, I think we’ve got to give you a bigger seat at the table,” he said.
He and others suggested that the Local Government Advisory Committee may need to be restructured to give large municipalities better representation. “We need to work on fixing the Local Government Advisory Committee,” said Ann Swanson, executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, which represents the legislatures of Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia. “It’s not tooled for what we are doing now.”
The Principal’s Staff Committee set up a temporary workgroup to explore options for better integrating the metropolitan area representation into the Bay Program. Recommendations are expected this summer, with a final decision possible later this year.