Leading by bad example

THE BALTIMORE SUN

RESIDENTS OF SHORELINE communities in northern Anne Arundel County have something rare and precious they're trying to protect: clean water. Stuff you can still swim and fish in -- and even see through to the bottom of shallow creeks.

At a time when so many other Chesapeake Bay tributaries and the bay itself have been badly damaged by pollution from overbuilt suburbs and overfertilized fields, people in Pasadena know better than to take their healthy waterways for granted.

Thus, they have been complaining since last fall that Main, Back and Bodkin creeks are cloudy brown from dirt washing off hundreds of acres of bare land exposed during construction of Compass Pointe Golf Course. But it wasn't until last weekend, when a fierce torrent of rain knocked out nearly all the sediment-control devices, sending large chunks of sand and loamy runoff into the waterways, that county officials finally shut down the 800-acre project.

The offender here was not some scofflaw private builder, but a state agency building the golf course on land leased from the county. The Maryland Economic Development Corp. will hire a private firm to run the golf course until the construction bonds are paid off with greens fees.

Thus, two levels of government, using public money, and operating under close supervision, have managed to endanger public waterways on an unusually grand scale.

"We need to step back and reconsider the project," said Pam Jordan, land-use spokeswoman for the county.

But with all the available evidence on the threat that soil erosion poses to the bay watershed, shouldn't someone involved in the project have known better in advance?

Hans F. Mayer, executive director of the state agency, told The Sun's Lynn Anderson the project was overwhelmed by Saturday's extraordinarily heavy rain. Coming after a long season of unusually heavy rain that has saturated the soil and raised the water table, he said, this storm water was beyond the capacity of the required controls.

That doesn't explain why nearly 600 acres were clear-cut at once, or why the complaints of residents were largely dismissed.

What frustrates County Councilman Ronald C. Dillon Jr. is that county and state officials hide behind the defense that they were complying with existing land-use regulations. Those regulations were put in place to achieve a goal, to protect the environment, he said. If the goal isn't achieved, he figures that's what matters.

The real shame is much of that land was forest before it was cleared. A golf course is easier on the environment than more subdivisions, but leaving it alone would have been better yet.

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