They came to praise Sophocleus and bury Neall.

A group of local environmentalists reaffirmed support for Democratic county executive candidate Theodore J. Sophocleus yesterday, saying he has a specific platform compared to what they called Republican Robert R.

Neall's empty promises.

The endorsement was based on an analysis of the candidates' environmental positions by the Sierra Club, said Helen Spinelli, the group's county lobby chairwoman.

"Their platforms provide dramatic and convincing evidence that it's really a race of substance vs. rhetoric," she said at a press conference in Annapolis.

Neall launched his campaign with an environmental plan that advocates creating a department of environmental protection, improving stormwater management and establishing watershed plans for management of growth along each of the county's waterways.

But Neall's critics said yesterday that his platform was little more than a list of goals with no plans to back them up.

Neall could not be reached for comment yesterday, but his campaign manager, David Almy, dismissed the Sierra Club analysis as a blatant campaign tactic in support of Sophocleus, whom the group already endorsed during the primary season.

"I really don't think we're going to respond to that," Almy said. "The (Neall environmental paper) stands as it was issued in July, and if they're just getting around to critiquing it in October, it's an obvious political ploy."

Sophocleus' promises include a goal of no net loss of trees; 100-foot buffers for all waters; a task force to develop a comprehensive growth plan; a limit on impervious services and better training for sewer plant operators.

Neall promises better sediment and erosion control by emphasizing on-site containment and infiltration; watershed plans to establish density goals along all county waterways, and retrofitting of storm water drains.

Neall continues to take criticism for opposing a ban on phosphate detergents when he was House of Delegate minority leader.

But on the other issues, he has argued, like Sophocleus, that proper enforcement of sediment controls, zoning restrictions, tree preservation and adequate facilities ordinances already in place are sufficient to stop development from degrading the environment.

His storm drain upgrade would be paid for through a county bond that would be paid off by a special environmental property tax.

Without saying how the county can afford it, Sophocleus pledges more than doubling recycling services beyond the state mandate and recycling of county office waste; a new utility to maintain stormwater devices; more inspectors to enforce sediment control; improved training for sewer plant operators, and retrofitting county and (on a voluntary basis) private buildings to conserve water.

He also promises to plant 1 million new trees and 500 acres of marsh grass with the help of state grants and programs.

Neither candidate offers a financing plan to expand sewer pumping stations to eliminate overflows into county waters.

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