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Posted at 11:18 AM ET, 05/ 3/2010

Saving trees on the Chesapeake's shores

By editors

By Robert Willey
California, Md.

As I travel around the waterways of the Chesapeake Bay, I can’t help but notice the explosion in housing and the disappearance of trees. It is apparent that many people want a view of the water, and the forest cover suffers. The trees disappear despite prohibitions and regulations on cutting. Traveling up some creeks can be like driving through the suburbs.

Perhaps it is time to add a stewardship component or assessment in the computation of waterfront property taxes. Land owners willing to leave the forest intact could get a rebate or reduction in their property taxes of, say, 10 percent, while those who maintain a chemically enhanced greensward down to the water’s edge, with swimming pool, deck, boat house, etc., would have their assessments increased by 10 percent or so. The percentages and stewardship criteria could be adjusted to make the program revenue-neutral, or the program could be used to raise revenue for restoration purposes. Such a carrot-and-stick approach could be sold politically as an opportunity for homeowners to reduce their taxes.

The truth is, poor stewardship costs everyone who uses the Chesapeake Bay for recreation or to obtain their livelihood, so it makes sense to charge deficient waterfront stewards extra to account for those costs. It can be reasonably imputed that a clear view of the water provides homeowners some utility or benefit, warranting the extra tax. Likewise, the homeowners with treeless lots could restore the forest to reduce their taxes. I think most homeowners fall somewhere in between.

Implementation could be done with periodic reassessments and by wielding carrots and sticks judiciously. I don’t think any of this would be as hard as determining the value of a property, and it would complement the tree-cutting prohibitions while providing incentives for restoring shoreline forests.

By editors  | May 3, 2010; 11:18 AM ET
Categories:  Chesapeake Bay, HotTopic, Maryland, environment  
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