Friday, February 22, 2008

Thousands of variances cut into Maryland's shoreline

Soil erodes in high winds, but not nearly as fast as environmental laws in the United States. Fiddling with the rules is a chronic, systemic problem with governing the environment in the U.S. The Environment News Service reports on an excellent study by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation: Maryland's critical ribbon of shoreline, protected by law, is being fragmented by small developments - a walkway here, a deck there - that add up to environmental degradation, finds a new study by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. To stop these ongoing variances, the nonprofit group is calling for a rewrite of a state law called the Critical Area Act.

In 1984, the Maryland legislature passed the Critical Area Act to protect the strip of land along the state's tidal waterways. This "critical area" buffers tidal creeks, rivers, and the Chesapeake Bay, reducing the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus pollution and sediment flowing from the land. When the law was passed, it was considered the centerpiece of Governor Harry Hughes' effort to restore the nation's largest estuary, the Chesapeake Bay....

The study found that to date an average of 76 percent of landowner's requests to vary from Critical Area protections were allowed in the four counties studied - Anne Arundel, Calvert, Kent, and Queen Anne's counties. While many of these variances are not individually damaging to the watershed - a small extension to a deck, the addition of a walkway - the cumulative effect of these variances is destructive, CBF says. "These variances are like death by a thousand cuts," says Kim Coble, CBF Maryland executive director....

Map of Chesapeake Bay area from How Stuff Works

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