Think small and cheap, a county planner told the Severn River Commission Thursday.

The government-appointed advisory panel has recommended that the county Department of Planning and Zoning examine extensively the land-use practices and policies on the 23-mile scenic river.

But Joseph Elbrich, chief of environmental and special project planning, estimated the cost of such a comprehensive study at $500,000 to $1 million.

"With this year's economy, that's not a realistic expectation," he said.

Additionally, Elbrich said the Governor's Commission on Growth in the Chesapeake Bay Region has proposed legislation -- aimed at directing new development to established growth areas -- that would require each county to do massive planning studies by 1993. "That could mean major competition for any study money," he said.

Elbrich suggested the commission narrow the scope of its proposal to focus on a section or tributary of the Severn, such as the Jabez Branch, an environmentally sensitive trout stream in Gambrills. That initial study then could be used as a model for other sections, he said.

Commission members, who timed their recommendation with the beginning of the county's budget process, said they were encouraged by the planning department's interest. But they questioned the estimated cost.

Elbrich said he based his estimate on two earlier water-quality studies on the Magothy River and on Rock Creek. The extensive Magothy study cost $245,000; Rock Creek $148,000. The planner said the commission's proposal was much wider than either.

"It's not a good comparison," said commission member Grant DeHart. "The Severn study would be a land-based study addressing public policy issues.

How should the creeks be managed so they retain their character? How should the watershed look in 50 years?

"We don't need a lot of new data. We just need to bring what we already know."

Such a study would mesh well with the growth commission's proposed legislation, said Rodney Banks, a county planner assigned to the Severn River Commission.

"The growth commission is trying to limit densities in certain sensitive areas which could go hand in hand with what the Severn Commission wants to do," Banks said.

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