January 28, 2010

What's going on in Maryland?

By What's going on in Maryland?

Author: Brandon Middleton

Via the Washington Post, we learn of an incredible story, but sadly only the latest example of the needs of endangered species being placed well above the needs of humans:

One hundred feet above the Chesapeake Bay, atop Calvert County's scenic cliffs, a battle rages between man and a tiny insect, the Puritan tiger beetle.

The ground is literally falling out from beneath cliff-dwelling property owners in Lusby, and their push to stop the erosion has collided with government efforts to protect one of the few remaining habitats of the endangered species. The beetle, a predator that controls insect pests, needs naturally eroding, unvegetated cliff face to survive.

Residents of Chesapeake Ranch Estates, which has some prime real estate offering picturesque views of the bay, no longer visit the slim beaches beneath the cliffs because a 12-year-old girl was killed by a landslide in 1996. Last month, the property owners' association closed a portion of one of the subdivision's streets because the road is now just 25 feet from the cliff's edge. William Carmichael woke up the day after Thanksgiving to find that 12 feet of his property had rolled down the cliff face, taking his hot tub with it.

Carmichael has lost 40 feet of his property since he moved in about 20 years ago.

"It is ridiculous. The whole damn thing is stupid," said Del. Anthony J. O'Donnell (R-Calvert), House of Delegates minority leader. "We have to find a way to help these people save these homes." The Puritan tiger beetle, Cicindela puritana, is listed as a threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act. In Maryland, home to the beetle's largest global population, it is endangered.

"I would equate the loss of the Puritan tiger beetle with the loss of the polar bear," said Michael Raupp, an entomologist at the University of Maryland in College Park. "If it had fur and a cute smile and were the size of a cat, people would be more concerned about the loss of this thing."

Nearly 90 properties with about 80 homes are perched along the top of the cliffs in Chesapeake Ranch Estates. Dozens more properties along Calvert's eastern shore are in similar situations. State and federal agencies keep denying proposals to stop the erosion because the plans would destroy the beetle's habitat.

One blogger has accurately summed up the situation in Calvert County: "The Endangered Species Act take priority over human life, the right to protect your property and pollution of The Chesapeake Bay and it's watersheds."  The story of the uncompromising Endangered Species Act that cares little for human progress takes place everywhere in America, from Maryland to California.

Unfortunately, it's a story that is too often untold, because people tend not to care about how draconian the ESA is until they are unable to enjoy their own property in a reasonable manner.

Meanwhile, a federal judge in Maryland has approved a settlement in the Indiana bat case:

A Maryland developer has agreed not to build 24 turbines and will abandon 31 proposed sites at a West Virginia wind farm, settling a lawsuit by environmental groups worried about potential harm to the endangered Indiana bat.

Under the deal announced Wednesday, Beech Ridge Energy of Rockville will seek incidental take permits from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as ordered last month by U.S. District Judge Roger Titus. He had temporarily halted construction of the Greenbrier County project, which now will have no more than 100 turbines.

Beech Ridge Energy also agreed to operate turbines only during the bats' annual hibernation period, from mid-November to March 31, when they are not migrating.

I'm not sure that things had to turn out this way — before settlement negotiations began, the court was wrong to halt construction of the project temporarily in the first place, for reasons I discussed here, here, and here.

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