County Executive Robert R. Neall asked environmentalists to give his administration a chance before judging it at the annual meeting of the Severn River Association.
"I know a lot of you were skeptical of my environmentalism. I would ask you to be objective and give us a fair shot," he told 95 members of the association gathered in the Tawes Garden Tuesday.
But nosooner was Neall out the door on his way to his next meeting than the SRA's newly elected president Colby Rucker challenged him to prove with his pocketbook his commitment to the Severn River watershed.
In his speech and a subsequent question-and-answer session, Neall, who made the environment the centerpiece of his first campaign speech and position paper during his election campaign:
* Promised curbside recycling for every household by fiscal 1993, and announced that next year's budget includes enough money to double the number of homes now included from 25,000 to 50,000.
* Supported plans to replace the old Severn River Bridge with an 80-foot-high span because fightingit threatens a $32 million federal grant that may not be available again.
* Supported a Recreation and Parks plan to place commercial signs along the B & A Trail park, while promising to "personally rip them out if it starts to look like Coney Island." The SRA voted to oppose the sign plan after the meeting.
* Supported changes to the county's reforestation bill proposed by Councilwoman Diane Evans, R-Arnold, that would allow the county to use money in a tree-planting account to buy easements on already-wooded property to keep it from being developed.
* Criticized as "one of the stupidest decisions" in recent history District Court Judge Martha Rasin's trespassing conviction of a county inspector last week. The inspector had been ordered to investigate an alleged environmental violation in Crownsville and was charged by the alleged polluter. The decision is under appeal.
Neall announced that a streamlined environmental unit is being formedthat will begin coordinating land use in the county in July. The unit will be made up of a director, who will answer to Neall, and four deputies coordinating the environmental activities of the Planning andZoning, Inspection and Permits, utilities and public works departments.
He also said the county "would need help" from waterfront communities to find creative ways to pay for dredging projects. Last week, the state withdrew all of the money from the Waterways Improvement Fund designated for dredging projects to offset the state budget deficit.
Neall's speech received a polite reception from the members of the 101-community environmental organization.
After Neall's departure, Rucker called on the county executive to match former County Executive O. James Lighthizer's $500,000 pledge to the Severn River Land Trust with a matching pledge that would be earmarked to buy the development rights on land along the Severn.
Though the Land Trust hasn't used the original $500,000 in the county's capital budget, Rucker said the land trust needs the extra money in case a large tract opens up suddenly and the trust finds itself in a bidding war with developers.
Neall spokeswoman Louise Hayman said the county executive prepares his budgets based on demonstrated need and the association would have to convince him of the need "to put more dollars in a pot that hasn't been used yet."