The Center for Chesapeake Communities is a new, nonprofit organization founded in 1997 to help provide local governments with tools, techniques and financial assistance to protect their own natural resources and the Chesapeake Bay.

The center was founded in cooperation with the Bay Program, largely out of recognition that — with more than 1,650 local governments in the Chesapeake watershed — there was more need for assistance and outreach than the Bay Program could provide.

“We know there are many out there who want some help,” said Gary Allen, executive director for the center, and the former mayor of Bowie, MD, as well as former chair of the Bay Program’s Local Government Advisory Committee.

At the same time, it’s widely recognized that actions at the local level — from land use planning to stream protection — greatly affect the Bay. As a nonprofit organization, the center can pursue other sources of financial support beyond the Bay Program, and thereby improve outreach to local governments.

The center’s goal is to provide large, small, urban and rural municipalities with the information, education and training that supports sustainable development practices that protect the Bay. The central principle of the center is that economic, social and environmental goals can be achieved simultaneously if systems, policies and procedures are designed to work interdependently.

“We believe economic opportunity can be found while preserving an ecological balance,” Allen said.

To help achieve that, the center is developing a clearinghouse of models, tools and strategies pertaining to stormwater management, site planning and pollution prevention that local governments are successfully implementing.

It also provides financial assistance for innovative projects that protect local natural resources and enhance the quality of life in the Bay watershed. For example, the center, along with the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, selects recipients for Small Watershed Grants funded through the Bay Program to help local governments and citizen organizations with restoration projects.

The center also holds topic-specific training sessions where local government officials can hear about the latest environmental protection techniques. In December, for example, it hosted a workshop on local government techniques for pollution prevention.

The center also helps to put local government experts in touch with each other to share expertise and experiences on resource protection, planning and management.

One of the projects the center is coordinating is a “site-planning demonstration project” that will provide on-the-ground examples of innovative, sustainable, site development techniques that both developers and local governments can adopt. Ultimately, the center will establish a demonstration site in each Bay jurisdiction.

The Center for Chesapeake Communities may be contacted at 410-267-8595, or access its World Wide Web site at: