- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 27, 2001

LA PLATA, Md. (AP) As growth spreads out from Washington's core into Charles County, development demands are colliding with strict regulations protecting wetlands.
Nowhere are those collisions more abundant than Charles County.
With more wetlands per acre than any other county in the metropolitan region, elected officials in Charles County have been forced to reconsider how they will deal with the growth.
Maryland's nontidal wetlands policies are designed to help preserve lands that filter groundwater, stabilize runoff, control carbon dioxide levels and provide a habitat for plants and animals. The state regulations are generally more stringent than federal wetlands guidelines.
Before 1989, the state lost 1,600 acres a year, but now averages a loss of about 40 acres annually, an amount that state planners said is reduced to zero when the creation of new wetlands is considered.
But some local officials said the protection of wetlands comes at the expense of other, equally important, environmental damage.
For example, the county has studied a proposed bypass that would take Route 301 around Waldorf for more than a decade.
Paul Wettlaufer, an engineer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers concluded the plan would likely not gain federal approval because of its adverse effects on the Mattawoman Creek watershed.
Local officials complained the announcement had come in the final year of the county's 10-year study of possible traffic-relief options. They angrily told Mr. Wettlaufer that that alternative to the proposed bypass upgrading the existing highway to an interstate-style road might cause more problems than it would solve.
"What's going to happen with all for those cars sitting in traffic, and what effect is that going to have on air quality?" asked Murry D. Levy, president of the county commissioners. "They [the Corps of Engineers] never did look at that."
Wetlands were once considered wastelands and were filled with dirt for commercial use. In Maryland, close to 65 percent of the wetlands that existed in Colonial days had been destroyed by 1990.
"Years ago, people just filled them if they were in the way," said Jennifer Aiosa, senior scientist for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
Because wetland regulations weren't put into place before Washington area development pushed into Charles, the county has occasionally found it hard to adapt.
"There always comes a point when you have to balance those environmental needs against other needs, including economic development," Mr. Levy said. "I guess some people around here just don't feel there's been much balance in it."

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