Virginia budget omits funds for Potomac River

Critics call decision short-sighted

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Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell’s two-year, $85 billion budget blueprint does not include thousands in dues to a long-standing, multistate compact to clean and maintain the Potomac River, a move drawing fire from critics who say the relatively small outlay provides a substantial return for the commonwealth.

The $151,500 in dues to the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin for the current year was stripped out during the 2011 General Assembly’s budget amendment process. Mr. McDonnell, a Republican, did not include the money for either of the next two years.

The commission is a 71-year-old pact among the District, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and the federal government to preserve and maintain the river and its tributaries.

In an Oct. 27 letter, Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources Doug Domenech said the commission’s work often overlaps with other services, including a multistate commission devoted to cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay. The membership fee is also expensive compared to other interstate organizations, Mr. Domenech wrote, and represents the equivalent cost for two full-time state employees who could working on other water-quality projects.

“In these economic times, we are dedicated to spending limited taxpayer dollars in the most effective and efficient way possible,” Mr. Domenech stated. “Virginia’s membership in the ICPRB is no longer needed to provide quality management of the state’s interest in the river basin.”

Gov. Bob McDonnell Kayakers Steve Graybill and his wife, Helene Scalliet, of Silver Spring prepare to take on the waters of the Potomac River despite Monday's wind a winter chill. Virginia is part of a regional compact to maintain the river, but Gov. Bob McDonnell has cut the state's $151,500 dues from his two-year budget proposal. (Rod Lamkey Jr./The Washington Times)

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Gov. Bob McDonnell Kayakers Steve Graybill and his wife, Helene Scalliet, of ... more >

But Rob Hartwell, appointed to the commission by Mr. McDonnell, says figures show that in the fiscal year that ended June 30, the state received a $529,000 return on its $151,500 membership.

He said, for example, should Virginia withdraw from the compact, the Environmental Protection Agency would reduce the commission’s share of one grant for water-quality management by more than $200,000.

“If they remain in the compact, and they don’t pay their dues, the ICPRB is going to have to make some adjustments,” Mr. Hartwell said. “I agree with [the governor] that a commission that’s outdated and doesn’t do good service should be abolished. … But if we’re goingto pull out of a program, we need to look at it on a dynamic basis.”

Joe Hoffman, the commission’s executive director, disagreed with Mr. Domenech’s contention that the commission overlaps with other regional efforts.

“We bring 22 or 23 people to the table [who are] focused on a variety of things,” he said. “We very honestly do not duplicate services.”

The Fairfax County Water Authority also has written to the governor on the issue, saying that withdrawing from the commission could jeopardize the reliability of the river as a water source during droughts.

“Our state represents the largest portion of the Potomac River watershed; not funding it is a big deal,” said Delegate Scott A. Surovell, Fairfax Democrat. Mr. Surovell plans to introduce a budget amendment to fund the state’s dues for the next two fiscal years and for the funds stripped out during the 2011 budget amendment process.

“It’s not a Democrat or Republican issue,” he said. “It’s simply an issue that a public resource is being cared for by every jurisdiction that affects it.”

House Majority Whip Jackson H. Miller, Manassas Republican and a state alternate on the commission, said he was still looking at the numbers.

“Funding is one thing. What is really the concern and the issue we’re trying to resolve now in a bipartisan way is the membership issue,” Mr. Hoffman said. “We don’t want to see Virginia drop their membership or withdraw from the commission.”

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