Councilmen honored for stormwater tax effort

Severn River Association offers thanks for attempt

By PAMELA WOOD, The Capital Published June 01, 2008

It's not often that politicians are honored for their failures.

But there three of them stood last week - County Councilmen Jamie Benoit, Josh Cohen and Ron Dillon - clutching certificates from the Severn River Association.

The three men were honored for their unsuccessful push to pass a tax on property owners that would have raised money to pay for repairing old, failing stormwater controls that send pollution flowing into creeks, rivers and the Chesapeake Bay.

Though they failed in their attempts to get the seven-member County Council to pass the bill, proponents said even getting the bill introduced and discussed was a success worthy of celebrating.

"We're optimistic the positive effort they have started will produce a result we and nature demand," said Kurt Riegel, president of the Severn River Association.

The association honored the councilmen with the annual Green Heron Award at the group's 97th annual meeting, held at the Indian Hills community clubhouse in Arnold Thursday night. The Severn River Association is believed to be one of the oldest groups in the country devoted to preserving a river.

The councilmen promised to continue their push for the stormwater tax.

Mr. Cohen, D-Annapolis, said they built a coalition of environmentalists, home builders and business leaders. He thinks momentum is "turning slowly" in favor of the stormwater tax.

Mr. Dillon, R-Pasadena, who said he enjoys boating with his family, agreed.

"I think we're making headway," he said.

"I'm disappointed there's not a fourth person standing up here - or a fifth, sixth and seventh," said Mr. Benoit, D-Crownsville, though he promised, "We'll be back next year to award our fourth vote."

Though the stormwater tax did not pass, the County Council did approve giving tax credits to property owners who install stormwater controls.

Keeping in the vein of controlling stormwater pollution, the Severn River group also honored former state Sen. Gerald Winegrad of Annapolis, who helped with promoting the bill. Mr. Winegrad was given a Blue Heron Award.

Mr. Winegrad said, regrettably, the failure of the stormwater bill is just one of many failures of government to address environmental problems, whether it's global warming or pollution in local creeks.

He said while the three councilmen deserve praise, "There were still four people that would not stand up ... because they didn't have the political courage."

Closing his remarks, Mr. Winegrad deadpanned: "Thank you very much for a loser's award."

Mr. Riegel replied: "I'm honored to be in the presence of such losers."

The Severn River Association also honored two of its own who have been successful in their efforts. Charlotte Lubbert of Crownsville was honored for her volunteer work, including coordinating the annual meeting.

And Bob Whitcomb of Saefern was honored for organizing massive stream cleanups throughout the Severn River watershed. Mr. Whitcomb said there are 22 sites that need work, and only one quarter of them have been targeted with cleanup so far.

"Folks, please help. We've got a lot more to go," he said.

Also during the annual meeting, association members elected officers and heard an update on shoreline development laws from Margaret McHale, chairman of the state Critical Area Commission.

They also heard a brief update on the health of the river, which has large oxygen-deprived areas but a few bright spots of flourishing underwater grasses. And Mr. Reigel announced a more in-depth look at the river's health will be held in the fall.

(Revised June 2008)