Number of groups trying to help bay creates confusion

By PAMELA WOOD, Staff Writer
The Capital, Published March 29, 2008

The Capital: The number of groups trying to help bay creates confusion.

When it comes to restoring the health of the nation's largest estuary, there's a foundation, a program and a trust all with "Chesapeake Bay" in their name. There's also a similarly named commission, as well as an executive council and an alliance. For the record, that's the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Chesapeake Bay Program, Chesapeake Bay Trust, Chesapeake Bay Commission, the Chesapeake Executive Council and the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay.

On top of that, there are government agencies and departments with various names; nonprofit associations, federations and conservancies - all striving to clean up the Chesapeake Bay.

In all, there are dozens (if not hundreds) of groups out on the bay trying to make things better, creating something of an alphabet soup of organizations. And it's difficult to know who is doing what.

Former state Sen. Gerald Winegrad tries to make sense of it all for the graduate students in his bay policy course at the University of Maryland.

"Even for graduate students who are intensely studying this, it's difficult," he said. "The reaction is really one of puzzlement, like, 'What's the Chesapeake Bay Commission compared to the Chesapeake Bay Program? What's the role of the Chesapeake Executive Council?' "

Author Howard Ernst sees the bay cleanup effort as an extensive web with no central leadership. Not only is it difficult to understand what's going on, no one is held accountable for cleaning up the bay

- or not cleaning up the bay, he said.

"If a Martian came to the bay watershed tomorrow and asked me to take them to our leader, there's no obvious place to go," said Dr. Ernst, who wrote "Chesapeake Bay Blues" and is at work on another book about bay restoration.

The Chesapeake Bay Program is perhaps the closest thing to a central organization in bay cleanup. The bay program is the cooperative federal-state partnership that set the roadmap for attempting to meet the 2010 goals for cleaning up the bay.

But even the bay program is vast - it lists 99 "partners," from the EPA to the U.S. Postal Service. And it has its own list of subcommittees and study groups.

"If you were going to create the most complex, least accountable organizational structure you could imagine, you could not create one more complex or less accountable than the one they've created," Dr. Ernst said.

While the decentralized approach seems ineffective to some, it also has its supporters.

David Bancroft is director of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, a nonprofit group that runs its own restoration programs and also has federal grants to do communication work for the Chesapeake Bay Program.

"We all play a role; we all should be involved," Mr. Bancroft said. "Not everybody is going to be agreeable, but at the end of the day most will be. You can achieve a lot with a partnership approach."

(Revised April 2008)