Chesapeake Group Honors Hill Staffer

Posted February 6, 2004 at 2:29pm

The Chesapeake Bay is in Charlie Stek’s blood. Since his first exposure to the bay as a young member of the late Rep. Clarence Long’s (D-Md.) staff, Stek has been committed to preserving the bay.

“I love this job,” the 49-year-old Stek said. “The reason I do it is because I get to see the fruits of my labors. I get to see federal dollars helping communities.”

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation honored Stek, projects director for Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D-Md.) for 18 years, on Jan. 21 with the 2003 Chesapeake Bay Foundation Conservationist of the Year award.

The award recognizes an individual’s outstanding service to Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts.

Stek first began his Capitol Hill career after graduating with a political science degree with a concentration in Slavic languages from Rutgers University in New Jersey. He started volunteering for Rep. Long and, after several months, received a position on Long’s staff, where he worked from 1979 until 1985, when Rep. Helen Delich Bentley (R) took the seat after defeating Long.

Stek first became aware of the bay’s problems while working as an associate staffer for Long on the Appropriations Committee.

Sarbanes and then-Sen. Charles McCurdy Mathias (R-Md.) were working with Long to continue funding the seven-year, $27 million Environmental Protection Agency Chesapeake Bay Program.

“The Bay Program was in its formative stages,” Stek said. “The EPA was doing a study to assess the problems and solutions.”

Stek recalls the final year of the study when the EPA said it would not fund the remainder of the project. As a member of Long’s staff, Stek helped to obtain the funding.

When Long lost his seat, Stek started working for Sarbanes.

Julie Kehrli, Sarbanes’ chief of staff, has worked with Stek since he began working in the office.

“He’s a wonderful guy to have around,” Kehrli said. “He’s always upbeat and cheerful.”

Kehrli said Stek deserves the award.

“I think they couldn’t have picked a more worthy person,” she said. “He has done so much for the environment and the bay. Charlie has gotten literally millions of federal dollars for Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts.”

Sarbanes also said Stek has been fundamental to his environmental programs and has made considerable contributions to the efforts to protect the bay.

“He’s worked with me as projects director for two decades,” Sarbanes said. “He’s been a true champion of the environment and a steward of the Chesapeake Bay. He has been responsible for moving numerous initiatives vital to the region through Congress.”

Stek’s contributions to the bay region include serving as the main author of the Chesapeake Restoration Act of 2000, which gave $40 million per year to continue the work of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Chesapeake Bay Program.

In addition, he worked intensely on the 2002 farm bill, which provides incentives to farmers to keep the bay clean by reducing harmful nutrients in the water.

Stek developed the Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails Act and is the author of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Nutrient Removal Assistance Act, which will provide $660 million over five years to help wastewater treatment plants increase nutrient removal.

One of Stek’s favorite projects is the Poplar Island project, the largest habitat restoration project ever undertaken in the United States.

Stek was instrumental in developing legislation to receive a half-billion federal dollars for the project.

Stek said crews are now rebuilding Poplar Island with dredge material. Some of the wildlife is also returning to the area.

Ann Swanson, executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, nominated Stek for the 2003 Conservationist of the Year award, which William Baker, the president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, presented to him.

Baker said there are dozens of nominees per year for the award. A staff task force selects the winners from the nominations.

“He has gone way beyond the call of normal duty,” Baker said. “He’s one of these people who has the environment in his gut. He lives and breathes … helping to save the bay.”

Stek and the other recipient, John Flood of Annapolis, Md., received bronze osprey head sculptures at Sequoia Restaurant in Georgetown during a luncheon. Jay H. Foster of Montgomery County also received the 2003 Environmental Educator of the Year award at this event.

Stek is not the first person on Capitol Hill to win this award. In 1983, Mathias, then a Maryland Senator, won.

Stek, who lives in Ashton, Md., with his family, enjoys kayaking and taking his small motorboat out on the bay as well as bicycling.