Phase Two of the battle over statewide growth controls begins this summer when legislative committees, at the request of their presiding officers, begin a two-year study of land-use methods to safeguard the environment surrounding the Chesapeake Bay.
Let's hope the second phase goes more smoothly than the first. While the Governor's Commission on Growth in the Chesapeake Bay Region -- better known as the 2020 commission -- made a strong case for reining-in rampant growth over the next 30 years, its recommendations proved too much for the General Assembly. Intense opposition from county planners and elected officials, plus the resistance of developers to anything smacking of controls, doomed the commission's Maryland Growth and Chesapeake Bay Protection Act in this year's legislature.
Still, the panel's findings are disturbing. Population in the Chesapeake watershed is expected to rise by 2.6 million, or 20 percent, by the year 2020, straining local resources. At the present rate of consumption, 625,000 acres will be developed in that period -- nearly two-thirds of all the acres consumed in Maryland in the state's entire history. The resulting congestion and increased pollution could turn this region's slogan into "the land of unpleasant living."
The 2020 commission proposed swift action to control growth in each subdivision. County officials protested vigorously. They do not want to relinquish local control, though they are responsible for the haphazard development that plagues many counties and which will cost taxpayers needless billions in future public service costs.
While legislative committees now have two years to come up with a growth-control format, there is pressure for the Assembly to act next year to protect sensitive environmental regions in each county. That is imperative. Steep slopes, stream buffers, flood plains and wildlife and aquatic habitats have to be safeguarded -- immediately. There is absolutely no excuse for delay. None.
We expect that House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller will deliver this same message to their respective committees. Legislators cannot ignore the helter-skelter growth that is ruining tens of thousands of Maryland's pristine acres each year. They have an obligation to protect our heritage.