A year ago, Carroll County's commissioners declined to sign a letter committing the county to a cooperative effort to clean up Chesapeake Bay. At the time, the commissioners were concerned that they might be committing themselves to spend local money to finance the clean-up.
Last week, the county reversed tack: Carroll will join other northeastern Maryland counties in efforts intended to preserve the U.S.'s largest estuary.
In signing the pact with Baltimore, Harford and Cecil counties, Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown reaffirmed an earlier plegde by the county. In 1993, Carroll, along with other Maryland counties, agreed by the year 2000 to reduce the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus entering the bay to 60 percent of their 1987 levels.
Even though Carroll does not have direct shoreline on the bay, its streams and creeks feed the major bay watersheds. Water in Big Pipe Creek, Morgan Run, Bear Run and Gillis Falls all eventually runs to the Chesapeake. Sediments and nutrients in these streams are as chokingly destructive as sediments and nutrients coming from other parts of the state.
Carroll's current board of commissioners deserves credit for junking the short-sighted position of the previous board. Refusing to sign the letter last year left the impression that Carroll was out of step with the rest of the state in attempting to preserve and restore Maryland's signature natural resource.
The previous stance also was foolhardy because the commissioners would not have explicitly or implicitly committed to spending money on the bay by signing the pact.
The formal commitment was -- and continues to be -- the development of policies that will minimize runoff from farm and residential properties, the curbing of destructive land use practices and the sharing of information with other jurisdictions on water quality issues.
Because Carroll is among the Central Maryland counties experiencing heavy residential building, paying attention to the effects of development on the bay -- whether a bayside county or not -- makes a great deal of sense.
Protecting streams and wetlands, preserving forest and woodlands and encouraging development in the county's urbanized areas is not only good for the bay's ecology, it benefits Carroll's environment, too.