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Beauty and the Bay

For elected leaders, paying lip service to a shared vision is one thing. Holding themselves accountable to that vision is another.

Take the example of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay. This hard-fought effort to rescue the biggest and most biologically diverse estuary in North America is proof that those directly affected by environmental threats are better poised to bring about change than federal officials.

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Still, the agreement hammered out this year by the governors of Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and the mayor of Washington, D.C. needs watching to make sure it is implemented.

The agreement sets forth specific cleanup, restorative, and protective land measures (read: sprawl restrictions) for the shoreline communities of the Bay. It's also a response to some serious threats, and it's largely driven by an incentive to get the Chesapeake off the federal list of impaired waters by 2010.

The plan takes into account future population growth that will need to be accommodated (there are currently 15 million people in the area), a crucial point too often ignored in environment-versus-development standoffs.

Compliance with this political document is voluntary. That "raises the bar, allows for some friendly competition, and a lot of creativity," says Fran Flanigan, executive director of the alliance. The pact is the latest in many ongoing and mostly successful experiments in regional cooperation in the United States.

The alliance rightly recognizes the need for an educated and engaged citizenry. It calls for such practical steps as teaching people not to empty used motor oil down a storm drain.

Perhaps more remarkable than the details of the agreement is the shift in attitude - the recognition that "we're all in this together" and that no single community or governmental entity possesses the responsibility or capacity to clean things up.

The alliance could serve as a bright star for other groups that share geography or environmental problems and would benefit from regional solutions. It's a fine way to broaden and redefine community.

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(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society