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A rising Maryland - our coastal bays and the dawn of a new Legislative season - January 29, 2013

It’s still the dawn of a new year and Maryland, in particular, has a lot to be excited about. Not only did we not all die in a terrible Mayan apocalypse this past December, we also avoided falling over the fiscal cliff — an almost equally ominous threat for our state due to the abundance of the federal work force that resides here.

But it’s not just the avoidance of economic and planetary disasters that spell our good fortune, we’re also privileged with the best education system in the country, and we are the wealthiest of the 50 states in terms of median household income. Add to this that we’re also making great strides in addressing the health of the Chesapeake and coastal bays, preparing for climate change, and now setting our sights on solving our transportation congestion issues, and the sense that Maryland is on the rise is almost palpable.

So what’s next for us?

Maryland’s annual legislative session began on Jan. 9 and will continue for the next 90 days, resolving sometime around April 8. During this time, legislators will focus on the issues of nitrogen in the bays, access to health care and housing, and most of all, transportation.

Maryland is the most congested state in the nation. While much of this is fixated around the DC and Baltimore beltways, we can relate here on the Eastern Shore with our summer Bay Bridge to Ocean City back ups on Route 50.

Legislators have highlighted enough is enough, and this is the year to address it. In fact, many in Annapolis are looking at this as a once in a generation “ramp up” on our infrastructure. Only problem is, O’Malley’s newly proposed budget doesn’t fully address the need and there is a broader concern on how to fund this priority. That problem is job No. 1.

Should the transportation funding be identified — and there is a lot of reason to think it will — we have a lot to consider, both good and bad, concerning implications on our coastal bays watershed. New bridges, highways and other infrastructure have the potential to impact wetlands, displace or fracture sensitive habitats and endangered species, and bring more people into previously remote and sparsely populated locales.

On the flip side, an investment in rail and other public transportation could have a positive influence on air quality, climate change and — in our special case — our tourism economy. Thus, this issue is not innately a positive or negative for the coastal bays, but one we need to watch and hopefully shape for the benefit of the bays and our regional smart growth efforts.

While transportation is jockeying to be the big issue of the year, it is not the only one that we should keep an eye on in regards to our coastal bays. Offshore wind, fracking, bag and bottle bills, and farm issues — such as a proposal to incentivize pastureland — will all have their time in the spotlight this legislative season.

Not surprisingly, Maryland’s biggest environmental issue of all continues to be the Chesapeake. $35.1 million of the newly proposed state budget is designated toward the Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays Trust Fund. The programs between the Chesapeake and coastal bays work closely together — sharing science and often even adopting comparable standards on issues such as nitrogen loads, restoration and fisheries. So, what’s a win for the Chesapeake is also a win for our coastal bays.

We have a big year ahead Eastern Shore. You can keep an eye on the progress of new bills at mgaleg.maryland.gov. And remember, we all have a voice. Please feel free to contact us at the Maryland Coastal Bays Program and we’ll work together on speaking to Annapolis on behalf of our beautiful coastal bays.
 

Arlo Hemphill is the Watershed Coordinator at the Maryland Coastal Bays Program. Twitter: @arlohemphill @MDCoastalBays #coastalbays


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