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Governor's plan targets threat to Chesapeake

January 22, 1998

Governor's plan targets threat to Chesapeake

By GUY FLETCHER

Staff Writer

ANNAPOLIS - Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening's answer to the state's Pfiesteria problem could hit farmers in their wallets, both in the form of tighter controls on the use of manure for fertilizer and in penalties for those who don't comply with the new standards.

Glendening's proposed legislation, outlined Wednesday, is aimed primarily at lowering the amount of fertilizer runoff into the state's waterways. It includes several approaches for protecting the state from future outbreaks of the fish-killing toxin.

Pfiesteria is believed to have killed thousands of fish and left many people ill last summer on the lower Chesapeake Bay.

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The plan includes approximately $13.8 million in state spending next year to pay for research, education, new state employees and improvements to wastewater treatment plants.

But for farmers, the most important proposal is a requirement that they enroll in a state-approved nutrient management plan that addresses both nitrogen and phosphorus use by 2000. Currently, a volunteer program calls for limiting use of nitrogen only.

Gerald Ditto, a Clear Spring hog farmer and president of the Washington County Farm Bureau, said some farmers would have to pay for commercial fertilizer to offset the high levels of phosphorus in the manure they currently are using. They also might have to pay to have manure removed from their land.

"Certainly it's going to be an added expense," Ditto said.

Del. J. Anita Stup, R-Frederick/Washington, said she would have preferred to see an expansion of the voluntary plan, at least initially. She said she doubts that 11 evaluation teams can examine all of the state's farms once every three years, as Glendening proposed.

"That's almost impossible," said Stup, a member of the House of Delegates' Environmental Matters Committee, which is expected to review the proposed Pfiesteria legislation.

Under Glendening's plan, farmers who have not fully implemented nutrient-management plans by 2002 could face civil penalties, a loss in subsidies or be restricted in efforts to expand their farms.

"I think it would probably bother a lot of people," Ditto said of the penalties.

The source of the Pfiesteria problem has been hotly debated. Many environmentalists and scientists say phosphorus from chicken manure is the culprit, while many farmers have pointed the finger at fish overpopulation.

During a meeting with state lawmakers Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, R-Md., raised some eyebrows when he said he heard Pfiesteria could be caused by fireworks, which contain phosphorous, being ignited near water.

"There is no farmer interested in polluting the bay," Bartlett said.

Glendening's plan does not relate only to farming, but would impose restrictions on other potential sources of fertilizer runoff, such as golf courses and other large areas of land. He also recommended placing controls on lawn fertilizer applicators and septic tanks.

"I stress that the state is not blaming farmers for the outbreaks of toxic Pfiesteria. Farming is indeed a preferred land use and we do not want to put a major economic burden on our farmers," Glendening said in his State of the State address.

Ditto said he is happy that it appears the governor is not placing the blame entirely on farmers, but he wants to wait and see what the legislation will do before endorsing or criticizing the overall plan.

"I think we all have to take the responsibility," he said.

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