Kent County Commissioner Ron Fithian on Tuesday blasted the Chesapeake Bay Foundation for its deafening silence and lack of advocacy in addressing pollution coming from the Susquehanna through the Conowingo Dam — a point where many experts, and even CBF, say is the single largest source of sediment and nutrient pollution into the Chesapeake.
Fithian also blasted CBF for criticizing the Kent Commissioners’ decision to join the Clean Chesapeake Coalition, a seven-county coalition dedicated to addressing a fix at the Conowingo before the operator, Exelon Power, is approved for relicensing in 2014.
The coalition has hired the law firm of Funk and Bolton to challenge the science of the state’s new federally mandated Bay cleanup plan. The firm argues that the plan virtually ignores the Conowingo as the biggest source of pollution in America’s largest estuary.
In the ten minute video below, Fithian explains the work of the coalition, which Kent joined at a cost of $25,000.
“We were heavily criticized by all the so called experts,” Fithian said at Tuesday’s Commissioners’ meeting. “I would get calls at 7:30 in the morning, still in the shower, from people like the Chesapeake bay Foundation, who tried to tell us not to join the coalition.”
“I found that extremely puzzling to me that [an organization] whose motto is to “Save the Bay” would not want to take a look at something that was so important,” Fithian said. “I can’t understand it, and I probably never will.”
He said the new coalition has raised the attention of an influential state lawmaker, the Chesapeake Executive Council, and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
“Nobody wanted to talk about the Conowingo Dam until the coalition was formed,” Fithian said. He said historically more blame has been put on farmers and waterman for the condition of the Bay. “Now it seems, and I’m pleased to announce, that everyone wants to talk about [the Conowing].”
He said the Citizens Advisory Committee for the Chesapeake Executive Council, consisting of 29 members appointed by governors of four states and the Mayor of DC, has written letters to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the EPA to look into the problems at Conowingo—before Exelon Corporation is relicensed to operate the dam in 2014.
Del. Maggie McIntosh, D-Baltimore, the powerful chair of the Environmental Matters Committee has recently made cleaning up the Conowingo Dam a top priority.
“One of the strongest committee members in Annapolis, without any exaggeration,” Fithian said. “She has just been appointed Chair of the Chesapeake Bay Commission…and she says her number one priority this legislative year will be to work on finding ways to solve the problems at Conowingo Dam.”
The seven-county coalition was formed in response to state’s federally mandated Watershed Implementation Program—designed to bring the Chesapeake into compliance with the Clean Water Act by 2025.
The state’s WIP plan sets timelines and milestones for Bay cleanup by requiring local governments to reduce farm, septic, and storm water runoff through locally enacted laws.
The seven-county coalition has argued that little attention to the Conowingo Dam puts an unfair burden on local governments and taxpayers to bear the most cost of Bay cleanup—while problems at the Conowingo Dam are ignored.
But CBF and other environmental groups are concerned that the coalition could use problems at Conowingo as an excuse to delay implementing local cleanup plans.
Maryland’s WIP plan was the result of a lawsuit won by Chesapeake Bay Foundation in 2010 that compelled the EPA to enforce the 1972 Clean Water Act. Under a consent decree, states in the Chesapeake Watershed, from New York to Virginia, were required to submit a WIP plan to the EPA that brought the Bay into compliance with the Clean Water Act by 2025.
So far, the cleanup costs to be shared by local communities in Maryland could reach as high as $14 billion.
Update: According to Clean Chesapeake Coalition Attorney Chip MacLeod, $3.7 billion will go to mitigate nutrient runoff from septic systems that contribute 50,000 pounds of nitrogen into the Bay annually. By contrast, the Conowingo Dam releases 40 percent of the total nitrogen load into the Bay annually–131 million pounds.