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Carroll to remain member of Clean Chesapeake Coalition

Carroll County will pay $25,000 to remain a member of the Clean Chesapeake Coalition after the County Commissioners voted Thursday to approve the expenditure. The approval came on the condition that the county will work with the other member counties to identify areas the coalition should be spending its time and money on.

The vote was 4-0, with Commissioner Richard Weaver, R-District 2, abstaining.

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"I wanted a little more about the details [of the coalition's expenditures] and which counties would be involved before we vote on it," Weaver said. "I wanted to send the message I'd like to wait."

The Clean Chesapeake Coalition's mission is to research and develop cost-effective policies to clean up the bay. It's composed of several Maryland counties represented by Funk & Bolton, a law firm specializing in environmental law. The number of member counties, however, is currently in flux, according to Commissioner Richard Rothschild, R-District 4. Allegany County officials have said they would like the county to remain a member, but do not have the funding necessary; Frederick County's new county executive has declared she wants out of the organization. Anne Arundel County, meanwhile, is considering joining.

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The question of Carroll's continued membership was broached by Commissioner Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, during a meeting May 12.

"There are other organizations doing similar work, and with [Gov. Larry] Hogan mentioning [cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay] in the State of the State Address, I think it's pretty well covered," Frazier said Thursday. "So why stay in the coalition?"

During the board's meeting Thursday, Rothschild gave a presentation on why he considers the coalition necessary.

"The point of [the coalition] is to shed light on facts that have been suppressed, hid, or never fully vetted," he said.

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Rothschild said that includes facts about the amount of nutrients and sediment entering the Bay from the Conowingo Dam, which spans the Susquehanna between Harford and Cecil counties. If not for the work of the coalition, he said, the dam would have already been re-licensed and contributing even more pollutants to the Bay.

When the EPA developed its limits that should be allowed on the amounts of nutrients and sediment entering the bay, known as Total Maximum Daily Loads, they did not factor in the Conowingo Dam, he said.

"If we can prove [the Conowingo Dam] is no longer trapping sediment and nutrient, we can demonstrate we are receiving a disproportionate share of pollution attributable to other [states]," Rothschild said. "A small recalibration could save Maryland billions of dollars, and Carroll County would enjoy some of these savings."

Maryland's Watershed Implementation Plan is expected to cost $14.5 billion through 2025.

A recent development by the coalition, which Rothschild said is a reason for Carroll's continued participation, is what they have claimed as evidence the United States Geological Survey altered images used in an official study to hide the fact the dam is contributing to the pollution of the Bay.

"We would never know this if not for the Clean Chesapeake Coalition," he said. "When a federal agency Photoshops a document with the intent of deceiving the American public, this is a disgrace."

Commissioner Doug Howard, R-District 5, said he wanted to ensure that, in the future, the goals and focus of the coalition are clearly outlined. When the coalition was formed in 2012, their focus was solely on the Conowingo Dam and they experienced great success, Howard said.

"The broader we get, the less focused we are, and we will never be able to out-spend [the EPA and other environmental groups], and might lose the argument," he said. "I'd like to see the mission for this organization be specific, and more in cooperation with other agencies and elected officials to make sure we are all on the same side."

Commissioner Stephen Wantz, R-District 1, said that while he agrees with Frazier that other organizations are taking up the baton, they aren't doing it with the level of success the coalition is experiencing.

"There is a lot going on out there in this regard, but they aren't doing it at the level the Clean Chesapeake Coalition is doing it at probably because there are attorneys involved," Wantz said. "So, if not the coalition then who?"

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