ANNAPOLIS, Md. - (AP) — After a week of heavy rain, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has a message for states upstream of the Chesapeake Bay: step up and take responsibility for the sediment and debris pouring into the nation's largest estuary.
The Republican governor described the situation as "an economic and ecological crisis" in remarks before a state board meeting on Wednesday, where other state officials decried the trees, tires and garbage floating in the bay.
Comptroller Peter Franchot, one of three members of the Maryland Board of Public Works, said the debris is creating a safety hazard for watermen and ships bound for the Port of Baltimore. Franchot, a Democrat, called it "an absolute disgrace."
"To be blunt, we're literally drowning in Pennsylvania's trash, and I have a huge problem with that," Franchot said.
Patrick McDonnell, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, said "we are disappointed at these careless and insensitive remarks." He said they undermine the strides Pennsylvania has made in improving water quality in the Susquehanna and Potomac waters and "insult the many Pennsylvanians still recovering from the record floods we just experienced, where at least two of our residents lost their lives."
"The 'trash and debris' that Maryland politicians are complaining about represent devastated communities, damaged businesses and lives ruined," McDonnell said, adding that it is "hypocritical to place all the blame on Pennsylvania and New York while Maryland has missed its own goals including nitrogen runoff reductions."
Since before he was elected governor in 2014, Hogan has cited pollution flowing from upstream states like Pennsylvania and New York from the Susquehanna River over the Conowingo Dam and into the bay. During a major storm, he said up to 80 percent of all debris, sediment and pollutants like phosphorus and nitrogen, come over the dam and end up in the bay.
Last week, engineers opened the dam gates, sending tons of water and debris downstream. The dam is located in Maryland, a few miles south of the Pennsylvania line
The governor said Maryland environmental and emergency management officials were working to remove the trees and tires that have washed into Maryland waters. He also said he will be highlighting concerns during a meeting next week of the Chesapeake Executive Council, which Hogan chairs.
"I can assure you that they will leave that meeting with a crystal clear understanding of their role and their responsibilities in addressing this issue," Hogan said.
The council includes the governors of the six bay watershed states, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and the mayor of the District of Columbia. The watershed covers 64,000 square miles and includes Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia. The council is the governing body for a multi-state and federal partnership known as the Chesapeake Bay Program.
It is scheduled to meet Tuesday in Baltimore.
Blocks away from the Maryland State House, Norman Sharps was spending his second day clearing away tree branches and trash. The heavy equipment operator for the city of Annapolis said he has never seen so much debris in his 30 years with the department.
"We get some but not like this at all," Sharps said.