Chesapeake Bay's Independent Newspaper ~ Since 1993
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Volume XVII, Issue 51 ~ December 17 - December 23, 2009

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Christmas Cookies

This week we feed your thought with waterkeepers and others whose calling is doing good

If most of our stories don’t give you food for thought, I’d better go into another business. Good reading, in-depth reporting and expert — or unconventional — opinion: Those are the promises that each week I remind myself to keep.

In December, our stories have another mission. Just as we fill our homes, hearts and calendars with lights in these darkest days, here at Bay Weekly we fill our pages with stories that reflect on good times and inspire us to reach for better times, in our own lives and beyond.

This week, in the third of this year’s four pre-Christmas issues, we introduce you to people (and a place) who’ve made vocations of doing good.

You’ll meet —

• Mike Mitchell, who directs Habitat for Humanity’s work in Anne Arundel County as well as Baltimore;

• Ned Hall, who returns to Bay Weekly’s pages to receive monthly columnist Steve Carr’s thanks for directing his life’s work and play to nature’s ways; and

• Calvert County’s restored Wallville School, where African American education was separate but exceptional.

Our Waterkeepers, Our Champions

To that list of workers for our commonweal, add our Chesapeake waterkeepers. Waterkeeper is a word you didn’t hear just a few years back. That all of us know what it means nowadays is due to the dedicated work of the men and women who protect our waters. In Maryland, 12 organizations have a variant of that title: riverkeeper, coastkeeper (as in Assateague) or harborkeeper (as in Baltimore).

There’s a solid Englishness about the name that recalls knights summoned to do battle with menageries of evildoers, dragons high in the dastardly ranks.

Today’s waterkeepers would likely consider Chessie a refreshing distraction, were the Bay’s signature monster to rise up breathing fire and spoiling for a fight. First, they’d probably take Chessie’s appearance as a sign of good health in whatever waterway she surfaced. Second, they’d probably far prefer doing battle with a tangible creature than with the many intangible causes of the Bay’s ills.

Sure there’s the occasional clearly identified villain, who’s built a giant, unpermitted house or pier or clear-cut a nice view down to the water. But most often our waterkeepers’ job of safeguarding their waterway means tracking generalized ills through red tape and the fog of obfuscation. On their dragon-slaying quests, even their friends can be foes.

Which is how our waterkeepers came to blows with the Maryland Department of the Environment. Our state-appointed champion, the riverkeepers said this month, is asleep on the job. The complaint was made in a petition now being considered by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

That doesn’t sound very heroic, but documents are the big guns of 21st century bureaucratic warfare. Securing documents, often under the cumbersome authority of the Freedom of Information Act, finetooth-combing them and finding discrepancies is less attractive than riding down a river. But that’s how change gets made these days.

From that painstaking work, the waterkeepers found enough fault to write, in their words, a “detailed, 58-page petition seeking major changes in the way Maryland operates and enforces the Clean Water Act in order to better protect the Chesapeake.”

In essence, the waterkeepers asked that the state be fired from the job of monitoring and controlling point-source discharges of pollutants. Firing the state means giving the job back to the federal government, which delegated it in the first place.

The waterkeepers also want a Bay ombudsman and more transparency as far as polluter permits.

Clearly the well publicized action is a power play, a public shaming intended to lead to contrition and amended ways. We’ll be following to see how it plays out.

Today, we’re simply glad to have a champion for a cause in which we all have a stake. Thank you, waterkeepers, for doing the kind of job that was the work of investigative reporters in the good old days of journalism.

Sandra Olivetti Martin

editor and publisher; [email protected]


© COPYRIGHT 2009 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.

from the Editor