A recent suit filed by a local environmental organization against a Berlin poultry grower, make it again fitting to note the differences between advocacy organizations and the Maryland Coastal Bays Program.
It should be made clear that the Maryland Coastal Bays Program works through consensus, does not get involved in lawsuits, and works closely with landowners to help them do conservation work or solve pollution problems. We are not part of this or any other lawsuit.
As part of the National Estuary Program, we work with local farmers, developers, scientists, recreational and commercial fishermen, tourism professionals and local business owners to find practical solutions to issues related to conservation in the bays behind Ocean City and Assateague. In addition to these constituency groups, Ocean City, Berlin, Worcester County, the state of Maryland and the US Environmental Protection agency are all partners.
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.
A group that does engage in advocacy and lawsuits is the Waterkeeper Alliance, a global coalition of water-quality watchdog groups. In Worcester County, the local Assateague Coastkeeper (Kathy Phillips) is also the director of Assateague Coastal Trust (ACT). In her position she does what she is supposed to do – be an advocate and watchdog for water quality. 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.
The director of the Coastal Bays Program is Dave Wilson. His role is to provide oversight and direction to implement the Coastal Bays Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan (CCMP). The CCMP represents a consensus of the best means needed to preserve the economic and ecological prosperity of the coastal bays in the next century. The plan includes reachable scientific goals and the most effective means for implementing them. 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 work to hold them to their commitment. However, this is far different from being an advocacy organization.
Still we have worked with ACT in the past on projects like the Worcester County Comprehensive Plan and the Grow Berlin Green Initiative, and there is no doubt that we share a common goal with ACT to preserve and protect the watershed. But our methods to accomplish these goals remain quite different.
In making the distinction between the methods of the Coastal Bays Program and those of the Coastkeeper, ACT and other advocacy groups, we do not intend to disparage. Watchdog groups are vital to ensuring that protocols are being followed and laws are being abided. Sometimes this results in legal action, which can lead to frustration and anger within the community regardless of the merits of the accusations.
There will always be some who confuse the Coastal Bays Program with other environmental groups, and we will have to work to dispel that misconception. Along the way we will continue our mission to care for our natural resources.