- The Washington Times - Monday, March 24, 2008

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — Waterfront property owners in Maryland would be banned in most cases from installing immovable shorelines that scientists say are bad for the environment, under a bill state lawmakers approved over the weekend.

The House voted 114-22 to ban most so-called “hard” shorelines such as concrete seawalls or stone piles, once favored by homeowners to prevent erosion.

Scientists say those types of shorelines hurt the environment and leave waterfront development prone to storm damage, compared with marshes and sandy shorelines that act as natural buffers when hurricanes or nor’easters hit.

Some homeowners prefer solid materials to “soft” shorelines like marshes and grasses because they allow for development closer to the water.

“We’re trying to work toward a natural shoreline,” said Delegate Barbara A. Frush, Anne Arundel and Prince George’s Democrat, who argued for the bill in a rare Saturday session of the General Assembly.

Mrs. Frush spent more than half an hour rebutting critics, who said the bill would unfairly impair waterfront property owners.

Some had complained that soft shorelines cost more than the stone piles, known as riprap, and that the measure would give too much power to the Maryland Department of the Environment, which would have to sign off on waivers to the proposed law.

The bill would not affect existing seawalls or prohibit landowners from replacing old riprap with a new hard shoreline. Some opponents wondered how long it would take for state environmental officials to respond to waiver requests.

“In my estimation, it’s giving the Maryland Department of the Environment much more powers than they had before,” said Delegate Adelaide “Addie” C. Eckardt, Eastern Shore Republican.

The House also passed a bill Saturday to overhaul state zoning laws regarding development near water. The bill revises the state’s Critical Areas laws, which critics say don’t adequately protect the Chesapeake Bay from harmful development.

That bill would require longer setbacks from the Bay, from 100 feet to 300 feet, and would give state regulators more teeth to enforce existing waterside zoning laws.

Like the shoreline bill, the Critical Areas bill raised complaints about the state going too far to regulate waterside development.

“I think the bill is very heavy-handed,” said Delegate Tony McConkey, Anne Arundel Republican, who voted against the Critical Areas reforms.

The bill now heads to the Senate.

Delegate Maggie McIntosh, Baltimore Democrat and supporter of the bill, said waterside development still would be allowed, but developers would have to take greater steps to ensure they don’t damage the Bay or its tributaries.

“It does not say there is no development,” said Mrs. McIntosh, who called the Bay shoreline “our most precious land.”

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