- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 12, 2002

RICHMOND (AP) The estimated cost of cleaning Virginia's polluted rivers and the Chesapeake Bay is spiraling upward, with no new money flowing into cleanup coffers.
"The price has gone up, but the wallet is empty," said Jeff Corbin, a staff scientist for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, a conservation group.
Mr. Corbin said he doubted that Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania would be able to make good on their agreement to clean the Bay by 2010.
Cleaning the Bay and the rivers emptying into it will require massive federal help similar to the multibillion-dollar pledge to restore Florida's Everglades, said state Sen. Bill Bolling, Hanover Republican.
"We don't have that money, nor can we expect to get the money in the foreseeable future," Mr. Bolling said.
A year ago, state officials estimated Virginia's cost of cleaning the Bay at $643 million. The cost would be shared by state, federal and local governments. The estimate is now $1.7 billion to $2.7 billion.
Also last year, the officials estimated it would cost about $60 million to develop court-ordered plans by 2011 for cleaning rivers and streams. The estimate now is $63 million.
The cost to clean those streams was estimated at $150 million to $300 million last year. Now, the estimated cost is $640 million.
Alan E. Pollock, director of water quality programs for the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), determined the new cost estimates last week at the request of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Two programs are at issue one to clean streams and rivers, another to clean the Bay.
Virginia must develop 648 river-cleanup plans by 2011. If the state falls behind schedule, a court order requires the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to do the job. The order arose from a 1998 lawsuit by environmentalists.
In slightly more than two years, Virginia has produced 22 plans, mostly for small rural streams. That leaves 626 plans to be done in nine years.
In a report to the General Assembly last year, the DEQ said the plans would cost about $60 million. That figure didn't include plans for numerous troubled rivers harboring oysters. Incorporating those costs raised the estimate to $63 million, Mr. Pollock said.
About $18.2 million in state and federal money appears to be available. Former Gov. James S. Gilmore III and Gov. Mark R. Warner, faced with a state revenue shortage, proposed no new money for the plans.
Once a plan is made, a cleanup can begin. A year ago, the DEQ estimated the 648 cleanups would cost $150 million to $300 million, spread over many years.
But plans finished in the past year raised the overall estimate to $640 million, Mr. Pollock said.
Experts found last year that the flow of nutrients, the main pollutants plaguing the Chesapeake Bay, must be cut more than they previously realized. That pumped Virginia's estimated cleanup cost for the Bay and its tributaries from $643 million to between $1.7 billion and $2.7 billion, Mr. Pollock said.
About $50 million in federal funds is available for Virginia's part of the Bay cleanup between now and 2010.
One of the main sources of cash for the Bay, the Virginia Water Quality Improvement Fund, is getting no new money.
The fund normally gets a portion of Virginia's surplus, but the state is facing a budget shortfall.
Mr. Bolling proposed a $488 million bond package that would include $97 million for improving sewage-treatment plants that taint the Bay, but Mr. Bolling said his bond package appears to be dead.
Peter Marx, a spokesman for the EPA's Chesapeake Bay Program office in Annapolis, estimated the cost of executing the multistate Bay agreement at $10 billion, up from $7.5 billion a year ago.
Mr. Marx declined to predict how much federal money would go toward the Bay. "When talking about the federal budget, I have no clue what's going to happen from year to year."


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