Environmental activists are lobbying Carroll County residents to support state legislative proposals dealing with water and energy conservation, mass transit and bans on dumping dredged material into the Chesapeake Bay.
At the seventh annual Carroll County Environmental Issues Forum in Westminster, activists from the Sierra Club and other organizations offered about 40 residents a chance to learn about critical state and local issues. They discussed the legislative process and lobbying for favored causes, including the governor's plan to spend $40 million to protect green spaces throughout the state.
"This is a network for environmentalists, a way to track the status of bills before the General Assembly and to discover avenues for further input," said Greg Becker, chairman of the Sierra Club's Catoctin chapter, which covers Carroll, Frederick and Washington counties.
Valerie Hobbs of Woodbine, who took notes throughout the two-hour discussion Thursday, said she got "a better understanding of the legislative process and how it affects people living in Carroll County."
The Sierra Club sponsors a series of forums around the state.
"Our main focus is on state environmental legislation," Becker said. "Some feel the state is the only responsive government on the environment."
The Carroll forum opened with a discussion of the proposed Maryland Water Use Efficiency and Resource Conservation Act. The bill requires public water systems to have universal metering systems, public education programs and a conservation coordinator. It stipulates audits of large users and rebates for customers practicing conservation.
"We have to establish conservation measures to improve our efficiency," said Terry Cummings, Maryland Grassroots coordinator with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
He named Seattle as an example of how conservation works. The city reduced its daily demand for water by nearly 70 million gallons during a six-year conservation campaign in the 1990s. Water consumption in 1996 is less than it was in 1980 - although the population increased 20 percent during those 16 years - and Seattle customers are paying less for water.
Environmental lobbyists prevented the dumping of dredged materials into a deepwater trench of the Chesapeake Bay near the Bay Bridge. Activists were able to show that the trench harbored sturgeon and rockfish, arguing that the dredged soil contained toxic elements, Cummings said.
Activists want Marylanders to support proposed legislation that would prohibit open-water dumping. "It's a significant bill that would ban all open-water dumping and establish innovative reuses for dredged material," Cummings said.
He also spoke of expanding mass transit. The governor's transit initiative aims to reduce traffic congestion and improve air quality by encouraging people to use public transportation with reduced rates and expanded services. "This is a way to move people out of their cars and make a difference in the air we breathe," Becker said.
Neil Ridgely of Finksburg said the forums offer communities a chance "to be better informed about local and state issues. We see this as a real opportunity for everyone to express concerns and to meet others concerned with the environment in Carroll County."
Ridgely turned the discussion to Liberty Reservoir, a lake at Carroll's southern border that supplies water for nearly 2 million people. Carroll officials have withheld their endorsement from a longstanding document that protects the Liberty watershed from development.
"The reservoir protection agreement is one of the most important documents before the [Carroll] commissioners now," Ridgely said. "The commissioners want to rezone large areas within the watershed. Attend the zoning hearings, and give your input."
Ridgely made a pitch for a fledgling group, Friends of Carroll County Streams, and called for volunteers to help with a spring planting along the banks of Morgan Run in Gamber.
Kristin Sedlak, one of several environmental science students from Carroll Community College attending the forum, said the event made her more aware of Smart Growth, the state initiative to control sprawl, and efforts to conserve open spaces. She was the first to sign up for the planting, and she promised to bring her 3-year-old son. "You cannot learn the value of conservation too early," Sedlak said.
Barry Bosley, Sedlak's teacher, said the forum gave students "a good idea of the interaction between citizens and government. This is a great way to get the pulse of both."