25 federal agencies pledge their help in bay restoration


As a major holder of Chesapeake shoreline, the Pentagon renewed its support for the bay cleanup yesterday, and other federal agencies pledged to help in the restoration.

The "ecosystem management" agreement signed in Washington points up the fact that the federal government not only helps regulate the bay environment but also is a significant user and potential polluter of the Chesapeake.

The accord seeks to reduce emissions of toxic chemicals and nutrients from federal lands -- as the government has pressed industry and others to do on private lands.

Moreover, the agreement treats the bay as a finely balanced system that suffers when government fails to act in concert.

The 25 agencies represented yesterday say they provide nearly $400 million annually in direct programs to aid the bay and environmental programs in the region. Together, the agencies own nearly 1.6 million acres of Chesapeake land, or about 5 percent of the bay's 64,000-square-mile watershed.

Just figuring out how much land the federal government owns in the watershed took three months, one official said.

Though the Pentagon and many other federal agencies already share in the bay cleanup, yesterday's agreement formally adds some new participants, including the Federal Highway Administration and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

One facet of the "ecosystem" approach is to encourage all federal agencies to create and conserve forested buffers along shorelines.

Environmentalists praised the pact's concept but cautioned that the alliance will not necessarily increase federal spending for the bay.

Ann Powers, vice president and general counsel of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said the agreement can help streamline the collection of critical data previously gathered by several agencies.

"If we just figure out how much oil is [transported] up and down the bay, that would be helpful," she said.

The Defense Department, which has 66 bases in the bay watershed, is a major player in the agreement. For example, Aberdeen Proving Ground northeast of Baltimore covers 72,000 acres. The Army weapons-testing and research installation has two sewage treatment plants each generating about 1 million gallons of effluent daily and is in the process of cleaning up dozens of toxic waste sites, some of which are leaking into bay waters.

As one of the biggest chunks of the Pentagon's 360,000 acres in the bay states, Aberdeen expects to spend about $115 million this year on environmental cleanup and compliance. That is slightly more than the state of Maryland's entire contribution to the bay cleanup this year.

Joseph D. Craten, Aberdeen's director of safety, health and environment, said he hoped the new pact eventually would bring more money for projects such as nutrient removal at sewage plants.

The agreement has 25 signers, counting government departments as well as branches within those departments. Besides the Defense Department and six of its agencies -- Air Force, Army, Army Corps of Engineers, Navy, Marines and Defense Logistics Agency -- the signers are:

* The Department of the Interior and its Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, Geological Survey and National Biological Survey.

* The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Coast Guard, Federal Highway Administration, Smithsonian Institution, Susquehanna River Basin Commission, Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the National Corporation for Community Service.

* The Department of Agriculture and its four services: forest, soil conservation, agricultural stabilization, and extension.

* The Environmental Protection Agency, already a leading coordinator of the restoration, officially known as the Chesapeake Bay Program. The partnership began in 1983 and primarily involves Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia.

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