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U.S. agrees to help with bay cleanup; Ecosystem plan commits government to projects on federal property


WASHINGTON -- The federal government will help in the cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay by taking better care of the 2.2 million acres it owns in the bay watershed, under a recently signed agreement.

The Federal Agencies' Chesapeake Ecosystem Unified Plan commits the government to bay restoration projects on federal lands and shorelines.

It also pledges that the government will not overdevelop those lands, in accordance with Maryland's Smart Growth initiative.

"It is so important to have the federal government on board full-throttle," because the government is responsible for many of the problems in the watershed, said Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C. Democrat.

High-tech help

The agreement will also provide some high-tech help for the bay: It calls on the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to use remote sensing and satellite technology to help target bay restoration efforts.

"The new agreement represents another important advance in our effort to save the bay," said Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, a Maryland Democrat.

"With this new agreement, the future of this endeavor is even better," Sarbanes said.

The agreement, signed at the spot where the Anacostia and Potomac rivers meet, expands a 1994 habitat restoration and ecosystem management program for federal lands in the watershed, said Environmental Protection Agency spokeswoman Kate Naughten.

Over 20 federal agencies including the departments of Agriculture, Defense and Transportation, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Postal Service are covered by the new program, which will bring the federal properties closer in line with state anti-pollution efforts.

Until now, said an official with the EPA, the federal lands have been a hole in the states' efforts to improve the watershed. Under the new agreement, federal agencies in the bay watershed will:

Work in accordance with Smart Growth initiatives by avoiding development in environmentally sensitive areas and improving old buildings instead of building new ones.

Restore 100 acres of wetlands per year beginning in 2000 and restore 200 miles of forest buffer on federal lands by 2010.

Open 50 miles of streams by 2003 by removing fish blockages and make at least 200 additional miles of shoreline and tidal waters available for public use by 2005.

Work with local governments to curb storm drain outlets and other pollution-causing problems on federal lands.

Use federal properties for pilot projects to study species and habitats, climate change and nutrient reduction, and share the findings with local and state governments.

Peter Marx, a spokesman for the EPA's Chesapeake Bay Program Office, said the program also encourages federal agencies to cooperate among themselves, sharing funds and information, to improve the environment.

A NASA element

One example of that is the NASA element of the program. The space agency will use its technology and information to help other agencies with habitat restoration projects, nutrient reduction site assessments and other environmental studies.

In the long run, NASA could save the EPA's program hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars by providing satellite imagery and remote sensing data, Marx said.

The Chesapeake Bay program is a cooperative partnership between the EPA, the District of Columbia and the states of Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania. The program was introduced in 1983.

"As we look upon these waters, we are reminded that, yes, we have made real progress," said EPA Administrator Carol M. Browner at the signing ceremony. But she said there is still much to be done.

"The oysterman would say we still have a long way to go," said Browner. "We cannot sit back."

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