For the environment, farms beat houses

Would a development on Kent Island really pollute less than farms?

The statement made by a top state official during a recent Maryland Board of Public Works meeting that a Kent Island housing development "would pollute less than the farms now there" raises an important debate ("Kent Island development clears environmental hurdle," Nov. 18).

There is a dangerous notion out there that converting farms to subdivisions is always better, and that it is a reasonable way to meet pollution reduction goals in the Chesapeake Bay. This generalization is just not true when a full and fair analysis is made.

The concept is faulty because it ignores that with new houses come secondary impacts, including more waste water, vehicle emissions, roads, offices and other buildings that contribute greater pollution, runoff and storm flow.

It ignores the many ecosystem services that farms generate. In addition to maintaining 20 percent of the state's forests, farms provide the benefits of water filtration, ground water protection and recharge, flood control and carbon sequestration.

In being pro-farmland, American Farmland Trust is not anti-houses. But we are keenly aware of how much our citizens rely on the local food and other goods that Maryland farmers grow on agricultural land. Trading away such a valuable asset in a mistaken attempt to meet pollution reduction goals is a fool's game.

Jim Baird, Washington

The writer is Mid-Atlantic director of the American Farmland Trust.

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