November 15, 2010

Chesapeake Bay Trust expands its reach

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By Barbara Pash
For MarylandReporter.com

The Chesapeake Bay Trust is working on getting its message out after a poll found that many Marylanders — including the 300,000 people who paid extra for Save The Bay license plates — don’t know what it is and what it does.

Today, the trust launched the Chesapeake Conservation Corps with a new public outreach campaign that includes outdoor billboards, social media sites and even a free mobile phone application with a guide to Chesapeake Bay wildlife.

“We are trying to do things differently. This is a new direction for us,” said Molly Mullins, the trust’s director of communications and marketing.

One in 10 Maryland households has a Bay license plate. About 7,000 of them are sold every month at a cost of $20 to buy and $10 per year afterward to renew. Fees from the Bay plates are the trust’s biggest money maker and add up to $2 million per year, half of the trust’s $4 million annual budget. The rest comes donations on tax forms, funds from state and federal agencies, private donations and corporate and foundation partnerships.

“We knew from our research that many Bay plate-buyers don’t know that the fee goes to the trust in support of grants to local schools. So we had a keen interest in telling people how the money is spent,” said Allen Hance, executive director of the trust.

Established by the General Assembly in 1985, the trust is a public foundation that typically distributes $4 million annually in grants for environmental education, community outreach and on-the-ground efforts in every county in Maryland and Baltimore City. This year, federal stimulus dollars boosted the grants given by the trust to $5.6 million.

However, finding the people with “Save the Bay” license plates to tell them all of this is no easy task. The Motor Vehicle Administration collects the license plate fees, and declined to provide contact information of people with Bay license plates for legal reasons.

“We have a good relationship with the MVA so we had to find another channel,” Mullins said.
Conservation Corps

The Chesapeake Conservation Corps was established by legislation in the 2010 legislative session. Senate President Mike Miller, and Del. Maggie McIntosh, chair of the House Environmental Matters Committee, sponsored the companion bills that founded the corps and provided some state funding for it through fiscal year 2015.

Although there are other youth corps in the state, as far as Hance knows, the Chesapeake Conservation Corps is the first to be dedicated exclusively to the Bay. In each of the corps’ five years, a group of 18- to 26-year olds will matched with nonprofit and state and local government agencies to work on environmental and energy conservationprojects.

“It’s a combination service learning and leadership development,” said Hance. “We are providing them with career training.”

The corps is being funded at a cost of $500,000 for each of five years. The state Natural Resources Department is giving $250,000 per year, and the trust will match that amount.  This year, the corps’ first, the trust is receiving $100,000 from the U.S. Department of Labor and $25,000 from Constellation Energy Group.

Nita Settina, park service superintendent for the Natural Resources Department, said in an email that its funds are to strengthen service in the Chesapeake.

“The trust was a natural fit, [due to] their work funding conservation progress,” she said. “It was a way to have an umbrella organization to support conservation projects and public service by young people throughout the bay watershed.”
New projects

In 2009, the trust was able to initiate two projects with a federal stimulus award of $3 million. Of that amount, $2 million went to Living Shorelines, an ongoing erosion control and habitat enhancement project in Anne Arundel and Talbot counties.

The rest, $1 million, went to Edmonston, on the Anacostia River in Prince George’s County,  for storm water control and a community “green” street. That project was unveiled earlier this month.

“Our goal is to expand the number of people we are reaching,” said Mullins.