If one can detect a certain edge to Kent County Commissioner Ron Fithian’s voice when describing government and nonprofit organizations efforts to protect the Chesapeake Bay, it is because he has been watching with mounting frustration the lack of success stories for almost fifty years.
As a waterman, a town manager, and a county government leader, Fithian feels like he is an expert eyewitness to the end of oystering in the Upper Chesapeake, and the extraordinary poor regional response to the Bay’s poor health. He has seen governors and agency task forces come and go with no tangible improvement in controlling sediment coming from the Lower Susquehanna River and the Conowingo Dam, the leading cause of the death in his mind of family oyster businesses in Rock Hall.
It may be that one of the results of this exasperation was his move to champion the Kent County Commissioners decision last June to join the Clean Chesapeake Coalition — with its $25,000 fee — to draw attention to the Susquehanna watershed, and in particular, the role the Conowingo Dam plays in damaging the Bay after major weather storms.
By many accounts, the CCC has been very effective to that end. With now ten county governments signed up, an extraordinary spotlight has been placed on the Dam’s operator (Exelon Corporation) efforts to renew its operating licence, as well as the projected new policies of a newly elected governor of Maryland, Larry Hogan. It also coincides with the recent release of the most comprehensive study so far on the Lower Susquehanna by the US Army Corps of Engineers, some of which seems to contradict some of the CCC’s primary concerns related to the role and impact of sediment on the Chesapeake Bay’s ecosystem.
In his interview with the Spy, Fithian remains convinced that sediment, not the damaging nutrients it carries, has caused the death of the oyster industry in his hometown of Rock Hall. He also remains skeptical, after a quick review of the study draft, on the assessment’s conclusion that dredging north of the Dam would be a poor use of resources. Having said that, Fithian reserves his greatest outrage for those that believe the CCC was designed to let county governments off the hook for moving forward with their own, very expensive, watershed implementation plans as mandated by the State and federal Environmental Protection Agency.
Despite his frustrations and a growing cynicism of the process, Fithian still leaves the door open for compromise. As he says many times, ” the Bay can’t have enough friends.” He is committed to listening and processing new information, but he continues to feel that the Clean Chesapeake Coalition has a responsibility to remain active for some time to come.
This video is approximately twelve minutes in length