Maryland officials criticize upstream states for bay debris

Brian Witte
Associated Press

ANNAPOLIS, Md. – After a week of heavy rain, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has a message for states upstream of the Chesapeake Bay: step up and take responsibility for the sediment and debris pouring into the nation’s largest estuary.

The Republican governor described the situation as “an economic and ecological crisis” in remarks before a state board meeting on Wednesday, where other state officials decried the trees, tires and garbage floating in the bay.

Comptroller Peter Franchot, one of three members of the Maryland Board of Public Works, said the debris is creating a safety hazard for watermen and ships bound for the Port of Baltimore. Franchot, a Democrat, called it “an absolute disgrace.”

“To be blunt, we’re literally drowning in Pennsylvania’s trash, and I have a huge problem with that,” Franchot said.

Since before he was elected governor in 2014, Hogan has cited pollution flowing from upstream states like Pennsylvania and New York from the Susquehanna River over the Conowingo Dam and into the bay. During a major storm, he said up to 80 percent of all debris, sediment and pollutants like phosphorus and nitrogen, come over the dam and end up in the bay.

Debris washed into Maryland waters from record rainfall accumulates around a sailboat in Annapolis, Md., on Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2018. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said he will raise the issue of upstream states failing to take responsibility for pollution pouring into the Chesapeake Bay at a meeting next week of representatives from six states in the bay's watershed. (AP Photo/Brian Witte)

Last week, engineers opened the dam gates, sending tons of water and debris downstream. The dam is located in Maryland, a few miles south of the Pennsylvania line

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The governor said Maryland environmental and emergency management officials were working to remove the trees and tires that have washed into Maryland waters. He also said he will be highlighting concerns during a meeting next week of the Chesapeake Executive Council, which Hogan chairs.

“I can assure you that they will leave that meeting with a crystal clear understanding of their role and their responsibilities in addressing this issue,” Hogan said.

The council includes the governors of the six bay watershed states, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and the mayor of the District of Columbia. The watershed covers 64,000 square miles and includes Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia. The council is the governing body for a multi-state and federal partnership known as the Chesapeake Bay Program.

Blocks away from the Maryland statehouse, Norman Sharps was spending his second day clearing away tree branches and trash. The heavy equipment operator for the city of Annapolis said he has never seen so much debris in his 30 years with the department.

“We get some but not like this at all,” Sharps said.