Maryland's Endangered Future


No issue strikes more at the core of this state's future than growth management. Over the next 30 years, nearly 1 million more people will take up residence in Maryland. Unless that influx is channeled intelligently into existing developed areas, this state's environment -- especially the Chesapeake Bay -- could be irreparably harmed.

Yet the General Assembly, in its unwisdom, last week stuck its collective head in the sand, declaring that there is no reason to rush to limit growth or set guidelines for preserving sensitive areas. It is open season for developers and farmers who want to turn a fat profit as their farmland is paved with asphalt and tract housing.

While critics, especially from local governments, raised legitimate complaints about the specific recommendations of the governor's growth commission, the overriding concerns of the panel were never challenged: Maryland risks ruining its quality of life if it does not find sensible ways to manage its population growth.

By failing to take action this session, legislators could signal the start of a land rush in which developers gobble up sensitive areas before officials recognize what is happening. The extra cost to government to service future sprawl will add up to billions of dollars. The cost to Maryland's environment could be incalculable.

House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell, as a native Eastern Shoreman, well knows what uncontrolled growth has done to that special part of Maryland. And Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, as a native of southern Prince George's County, well knows the damage ill-conceived sprawl has done to the state's suburbs. Still, neither leader stepped forward to champion growth management. They preferred to postpone action indefinitely.

The problem, however, won't disappear. Messrs. Miller and Mitchell have committed the General Assembly to studying this issue over the summer. That could be the kiss of death. They set no timetable and no structure for conducting this study. That's not good enough.

LTC If Speaker Mitchell and President Miller truly care about protecting the health of the Chesapeake Bay, if they really care about preserving this state's farmland and open space, if they are serious about minimizing government's future costs, they must involve themselves directly in this summer study by providing the leadership on growth management that has so far been missing.

Maryland cannot afford to wait years for the legislature to act. We expect better of our lawmakers. The governor's commission has provided a splendid starting point for the Mitchell-Miller study. This state desperately needs a growth-management plan. There is no reason the legislature cannot come to grips with this issue in the months ahead and present its own plan for growth limits at next year's General Assembly session.

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