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May 1, 2011

B'more less green? Urban runoff grants go mainly to DC area


It may seem uncharitable to question anyone giving away money, especially in these hard times. But there's an all-too-familiar pattern in the announcement late last week by the Chesapeake Bay Trust and its federal and state government partners that they're doling out $231,000 for planning and design of "green" infrastructure projects in 10 Maryland communities.

Nine of the 10 places getting grants under the "Green street-Green jobs Initiative" are in the Washington suburbs, while just one is in Baltimore. What is Charm City, chopped liver?

The announcement came Friday at the start of a two-day "Green Streets Green Jobs" forum in Silver Spring put on by the Environmental Protection Agency. It's part of a new nationwide EPA strategy to promote rooftop gardens, permeable pavement, rain gardens and other green remedies for urban stormwater pollution. Washington D.C. is one of 10 US cities where EPA says it will encourage and support green infrastructure projects as models for the rest of the country.   Baltimore is not on the list.

DC was picked because of the Anacostia River, which drains portions of Prince George's and Montgomery counties before flowing through eastern DC on its way to the Potomac River. It is one seriously degraded waterway - trash strewn, unfit to swim or wade in in many places and with some fish not safe to eat.

But the Patapsco and Back rivers, which bracket Baltimore and make up the harbor watershed, are in bad shape, too, with similar problems. They received flunking grades for the second straight year in the University of Maryland's annual report card  on the health of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.

So why the DC suburbs get the lion's share of the grants announced Friday? Because EPA provided $200,000 of the funds given out by the Chesapeake Bay Trust, and the feds (based in Washington) wanted to see their money spent in the Anacostia watershed, according to the trust.

The trust is based in Annapolis, not DC.  It's a quasi-public grantmaker that gets funding from all Marylanders, through "save the bay" license plate sales, tax checkoffs and other donations. So the trust kicked in a little more than $31,000 of its money for greening a  heavily trafficked stretch of Erdman Avenue in Northeast Baltimore.  According to trust spokeswoman Molly Mullins, it wanted to extend the street-greening effort beyond the Anacostia. The project was proposed by Belair-Edison Neighborhood Inc. and included individuals and partner groups such as Blue Water Baltimore, Civic Works and Baltimore Medical Systems.

It's not surprising EPA is focused on the Anacostia. The agency has been pushing restoration there for some time now, and used economic stimulus money a couple years back to bankroll a "green street" pilot project in tiny  Edmonston in Prince George's County.

Baltimore, meanwhile, has lagged behind other cities like Boston and DC in getting serious about cleaning up its waters. Yet the harbor, long written off as an industrial cesspool, is just as much in need of a shot in the arm as the Anacostia is.

To be sure, there are efforts under way in Baltimore to reclaim its harbor from centuries of abuse and neglect. The various watershed watchdog groups recently merged to bring more muscle to their cause, under the banner of Blue Water Baltimore. And the Waterfront Partnership - led by business and nonprofit executives - has staked out a goal of making the harbor fishable and swimmable by the end of the decade. The group is even bankrolling the drafting of a plan for reaching that ambitious target.

But there doesn't seem to be the same concerted public and private effort being made - yet - to bring back the harbor as there is with with the Anacostia.  Where will the real money and sweat come from to achieve the harbor's restoration?  In these hard times, business and foundations will only give so much. Where is the public commitment, the coordinated plan and push from city, state and federal governments combined, as is beginning to manifest itself on the Anacostia?

Perhaps it'll come, but Baltimore clearly has some catching up to do - to get organized, produce a realistic restoration plan, and start taking the hard steps needed to raise the necessary funds and to change harmful habits of the community. And citizens and their representatives - local and state politicians - will have to make sure EPA recognizes the need for help in restoring Baltimore's harbor is at least as great as it is in cleaning up Washington's Anacostia River. Until Baltimore stands up for itself and starts showing some real determination and progress, Charm City really has no one else to blame for its stepchild status when the feds are handing out the dough.

(Photos: Top, Rain garden in Berwyn Heights, by David Fronapfel, Patuxent Publishing; Middle, trash trap Anacostia River, by Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore Sun; Bottom, Belair-Edison Neighborhood sign, by Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun)

Posted by Tim Wheeler at 6:39 AM | | Comments (0)

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About the bloggers
Tim WheelerTim Wheeler reports on the environment and Chesapeake Bay. A native of West Virginia, he has focused mainly on Maryland's environment since moving here in 1983. Along the way, he's crewed aboard a skipjack in the bay, canoed under city streets up the Jones Fall from the Inner Harbor, and gone deep underground in a western Maryland coal mine. He loves seafood, rambles in the country and good stories. He hopes to share some here.

Contributor Christy Zuccarini has been blogging about the local DIY craft scene for a year for She brings her pespective on all things handmade to B'More Green, where she will highlight projects you can do yourself as well as crafters who are integrating sustainable methods and materials.

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