Wider Focus Needed to Clean Up Cheasapeake Bay
Washington, D.C. area home builder Marty Mitchell advised a Senate panel last week that more onerous regulations for new development won’t clean up the Chesapeake Bay, but that paying closer attention to the storm water runoff from the existing infrastructure and from agriculture could have a substantial, positive impact.
Mitchell, also a member of NAHB’s Environmental Issues Committee and a longtime volunteer for the Maryland-National Capital Building Industry Association, spoke on behalf of his family’s home building company, Mitchell & Best.
At the Aug. 3 hearing, the Water and Wildlife Subcommittee of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee focused on reauthorization of the Chesapeake Bay Program. Leaders of the program have acknowledged that they will miss the 2010 deadline for significantly reducing pollution in the bay.
The cleanup efforts are being watched closely by environmentalists and regulators concerned about the nation’s other significant water bodies — and who propose stiffer penalties on new development.
Emphasis on new development has led to the Chesapeake Bay Program’s failure, Mitchell told Senate leaders.
“If progress is to be made, all pollutant sources must play a role in making reductions,” he said. “For example, runoff from existing urban areas and agricultural runoff must be addressed if the restoration efforts are to meet their goals.”
Because of innovative new practices and storm water management regulations initiated to comply with the U.S. Clean Water Act, construction practices today play a negligible role in introducing pollution into the estuary, Mitchell pointed out. He also stressed that more often than not, retrofitting an existing development, instead of forcing new construction projects to comply with almost impossibly high standards, provides a greater benefit to the bay and its associated waters.
Mitchell cautioned legislators and regulators to maintain the flexibility of existing programs. Low-impact development — including the creation of swales and rain gardens — is an excellent solution for many areas but does not work in some regions. He cited the example of one of his projects in Maryland that struggled to meet Low Impact Development (LID) requirements that were incompatible with the area’s soil and vegetation.
Mitchell also made suggestions for improving the water quality of the bay, including:
- Interstate water quality trading. Allowing stakeholders to mitigate the effects of introducing pollutants is crucial to reduce the overall costs of reducing pollutants to the bay while ensuring that agriculture is included, he said.
- A regional, rather than project-by-project, approach to regulation. “The current approach only focuses on the project under approval and the amount of on-site controls that have little to no benefit, but actually compete with smart growth strategies,” he said.
- Better communications with stakeholders. “Accommodations must be made so the affected industry sectors can begin planning now to meet the demands that will come under the new regulatory regime envisioned for the bay’s watershed. The Environmental Protection Agency has largely neglected the requirement for gathering stakeholder input to date,” Mitchell said.
- Continued federal support. “This restoration program will sorely test the bay state economies. Federal support for this program, which sets the precedent for similar programs to take place around the country and takes place within a stone’s throw of the capital, seems especially deserving,” he said.
For more information, e-mail Calli Schmidt at NAHB, or call her at 800-368-5242 x8132.