Monday, August 3, 2009

MCBP Remains a Consensus Building Organization

by Dave Wilson Jr.

In recent weeks, many champions of the environment have asked why the Maryland Coastal Bays Program has not been more vocal about the Worcester County planning reorganization and some parts of the zoning code.

While the program was disappointed with the process used in the reorganization and the result, and while we provided numerous comments about ways to improve the comprehensive rezoning, we do not take advocacy positions.

As part of the National Estuary Program, we work with partners to reach consensus on issues related to conservation in the bays behind Ocean City and Assteague. Ocean City, Berlin, Worcester County, the state of Maryland and the US Environmental Protection agency are all partners who work hard to fulfill the goals in the Coastal Bays Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan,--created by local farmers, developers, scientists, recreational and commercial fishermen, tourism professionals and local business owners.

Since 1996 our focus has been to protect and enhance the health of the bays behind Assateague and Ocean City, and our method to accomplish these goals has always been to reach common ground through listening and learning. Our work represents a consensus of the best means needed to preserve the economic and ecological prosperity of the coastal bays in the next century.

Unlike advocacy groups, consensus building groups seek to achieve overwhelming agreement after sincere efforts are made to meet the interests of all stakeholders. It should be noted, however, that consensus building does not have a goal of unanimity. Rather it is successful when everyone involved can live with the final agreement and that every effort has been made to address stakeholders’ priority interests.

To be sure, when our partners eschew their commitments or when they act in a manner that gives priority to special interests rather than the community as a whole, we will work to get them back on track.

Advocacy groups like Assateague Coastal Trust (ACT) work differently. According to its mission statement, ACT works to “protect and enhance the natural resources of the Atlantic coastal bays watershed through advocacy, conservation, and education.” ACT has a long history of environmental advocacy in the coastal bays, beginning with efforts in the early 1970s to preserve Assateague Island, which is now protected as a National Seashore. Such groups attempt to influence political decisions by trying to persuade public officials to act or vote according to the organization’s position. These groups seek to influence the political and regulatory process through lobbying efforts. There is an important place for this, but it is not with the National Estuary Program.

We often agree with ACT and often we also disagree. True, we share a common goal with ACT to preserve and protect the watershed, but our methods to accomplish these goals are quite different. That said, no matter what we do or don’t do, there will always be some who think the Coastal Bays Program goes too far to protect the watershed, while there will be others who believe we don’t go far enough.
Despite angering a few on the extremes, we will continue to build a consensus to provide a forum for stakeholder interests for mutually acceptable solutions.

Dave Wilson Jr. is the Executive Director of the Maryland Coastal Bays Program.

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