If information were water, Gerald Winegrad would be a tidal wave.
The shear amount of data and passion he has would baffle those who say they are announcing they are “going green.” A sampling of his quotes would include…
“The bay area forest has gone from 95% of land cover to about 48%.”
“95% of oysters now come from aquaculture.”
“To be a good citizen, you need to know your history.”
“Power dredging is the knock-out punch for oysters.”
“Agriculture is, by far, the biggest source of pollution.”
“Does the Maryland legislature have the courage to do what is necessary?”
“Oyster put-and-take is stupid.”
“My mother rented us out like indentured servants!”
The latter refers to his being assigned to a local tobacco farmer for harvest who needed laborers where he busted his rear for $1 an hour. And thus begins the legitimacy of his hard-core environmentalism as differentiated from those without calluses on their hands. If there is one thing Mr. Winegrad has, it is credibility.
He is an attorney, adjunct professor, economist, veteran and legislator. But, to go through these titles would seem rather superfluous up against his explanations of how the Chesapeake Bay has fallen from grandeur of ecological abundance to victim of over-zealous and blind progress. He is what used to be called an “environmental warrior.” But a warrior must pick his battles.
“To paint all developers with the same brush as villains is not fair,” Mr. Winegrad says when asked if these issues are an all-or-nothing choice. “Not all developers, watermen, farmers, or people flushing sewage to treatment facilities are bad people.” He only wishes that there was as much common sense in people as there are facts in his own head. Yet, when given the right opportunity to bring all of his knowledge to bear (not to mention his dogged determination) the reason for his perseverance becomes crystal clear.
“He was masterful; from the beginning to the end. And, he was masterful for seven years straight,” says Paula Peters, a local lawyer and political provocateur. What Ms. Peters refers to is the proposed development entitled Crystal Springs at the corner of Forest Drive and Spa Road in Annapolis. At stake was more traffic, more felled trees, and all that much more runoff to the Chesapeake Bay for the sake of additional residential and retail development. Diehards longing for the days of colonial-level oyster reserves would want to run each and every one of these developers out of town and declare victory. Yet, while Mr. Winegrad could easily quote those oyster levels of olden days, he is not unrealistic about what has happened in the past and what can happen in the future.
When the seven years of smoke cleared over the Crystal Springs project, the developers agreed to a much scaled back project. It will assure the permanent protection of all 115 acres of forest once cleared forest is replanted and super stormwater management plans while protecting 139 acres of the 175-acre site forever. There is now a rare moment of agreement. This is thanks to the warrior.
Portraying the differences between environmentalists and developers as a pitched battle is, perhaps, the wrong analogy. Mr. Winegrad is not an enemy force with which one must declare war in order to simply build some senior housing. Rather, he is more of an environmental superintendent, wagging a disapproving finger at those who should have learned the lessons of ecological stewardship as children. And, by the way, it’s best not to argue the facts with him. You will lose.
Gerald Winegrad knows that things will never be the same for the Chesapeake Bay, but his heart will not let him walk away from the work he has done for half a century. Anne Arundel County, and outside developers and investors, should view him, not as an adversary, but as a sage administrator worthy of respect. In the end, the county will be better off if it does.