CHESTERTOWN — According to four cabinet-level officials, the state has done a great job of coordinating with the county government on issues such as Chesapeake Bay cleanup, fisheries management and agricultural regulations, and the county’s efforts to apply the National Environmental Policy Act are “based on misinterpretation and misapplication.”
A letter to Kent County Administrator Ernie Crofoot arrived March 20 from Maryland secretaries Joseph Gill (natural resources), Richard E. Hall (planning), Earl “Buddy” Hance (agriculture) and Robert Summers (environment) in response to the county’s efforts to get more involved with policy matters at the state level.
Crofoot issued his letter to the state, at the county commissioners’ request, Jan. 10. It included a resolution issued by the commissioners staking the “authority to engage federal and state agencies in the coordination process established and mandated by federal and state statutes” under the NEPA.
“NEPA imposes no obligation on the lead federal agency or the coordinating state agency to coordinate with local jurisdictions. Consequently, neither the State nor its undersigned agencies has any legal obligation to coordinate with Kent County in the manner suggested by the Resolution,” the letter signed by the four secretaries states.
Ron Fithian, president of the Kent County Commissioners, expected such a response.
“We envisioned that type of response when we first set out there. We’ll see how it plays out,” Fithian said Monday, March 31.
He said state officials seem to think that by meeting with their counterparts in the county and telling them what is going to be done — as opposed to asking for input on plans — constitutes coordination. He said the state tells the county how it is “going to be.”
“We see it differently than that and we’ll be preparing a response to the letter we received from them,” Fithian said.
Earlier this year, Crofoot said the idea behind the county’s letter to the state came out of a discussion with members of the Clean Chesapeake Coalition, of which Fithian is chairman.
The hope was that by applying the NEPA to a federally mandated Chesapeake Bay cleanup program, the state would have to look at ensuring industries such as seafood and agriculture are not shut down due to regulations. Crofoot said according to the NEPA, the Bay pollution diet program requires officials to take into account the social and economic development environments, as well as the physical environment.
“There are seven or eight factors, in which the physical environment is only, you know, one or two pieces,” Crofoot said.
The letter from Gill, Hall, Hance and Summers, written after consultation with the state Office of the Attorney General, lists the various ways the state coordinated with local jurisdictions on matters ranging from the Bay pollution diet to fisheries issues, and the Conowingo Dam to nutrient management laws. The secretaries wrote about stakeholder meetings, an email “Suggestion Box,” conference briefings and other types of hearings.
“Despite the strict legal position regarding the Kent County resolution, Maryland continues to make stakeholder and local engagement a priority in setting a successful path forward for all of the programs mentioned in this letter. The Governor’s Bay Cabinet has met previously with the Kent County Commissioners to discuss the bay restoration effort specifically and is always willing to meet with the Commissioners as a group or individually to discuss any matter of interest to the Commissioners upon request, without the need for a formal legal document,” the letter states.