Op­po­si­tion grows against Bay bridge into Kent

Kent County News - - FRONT PAGE - By JACK RODGERS jrodgers@thekent­coun­tynews.com

CHESTERTOWN — The Kent Con­ser­va­tion and Preser­va­tion Al­liance, ve­he­mently op­posed to a Ch­e­sa­peake Bay bridge cross­ing into Kent County, en­listed sup­port­ers last week while host­ing an in­for­ma­tion ses­sion about the Bay Bridge Cross­ing Study.

Janet Chris­tensen-Lewis, chair­man of the KCPA, and board mem­ber El­iz­a­beth Wat­son spoke to a full house Jan. 25 at the Chestertown fire­house.

The pos­si­bil­ity of a third Bay cross­ing, this one through Kent, moved to the front burner last fall when the Mary­land Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion an­nounced that it would be start­ing a Na­tional En­vi­ron­men­tal Pol­icy Act study of the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay.

Chris­tensen-Lewis sum­ma­rized past at­tempts to cre­ate a Bay cross­ing. She said a plan to cross the Bay be­gan in the early 1900s, but was sti­fled by the Great De­pres­sion in 1929.

Other events, such as World War II, lim­ited pro­pos­als drafted in the late 1930s. By the time the war ended, a cross­ing through Kent Is­land in Queen Anne’s County was cho­sen, Chris­tensen-Lewis said.

The pur­pose of a third bridge is to re­duce traf­fic on the two ex­ist­ing spans, which would not ben­e­fit the East­ern Shore, Chris­tensen-Lewis said.

“Mary­land Trans­porta­tion Author­ity is us­ing a 20th cen­tury model as a so­lu­tion to ad­dress 21st cen­tury trans­porta­tion and growth,” Chris­tensen-Lewis said. “A bridge ter­mi­nus would not be har­mo­nious with the land or the peo­ple who pop­u­late the re­gion.”

Wat­son said that af­ter mem­bers of the KCPA met with the Mary­land Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion on Jan. 2, “our board re­al­ized that we needed to get busy. And the first thing we de­cided to do was to hold this meet­ing. Just to walk you guys through enough of the process so that you un­der­stand what we know.”

In her pre­sen­ta­tion, Wat­son said the Mary­land Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion has nar­rowed its area of study to five zones. The NEPA study re­quires or­ga­ni­za­tions to look at the po­ten­tial ef­fects of fed­eral ac­tion on the en­vi­ron­ment.

“So the process is go­ing to use past stud­ies, and it’s go­ing to use ex­ist­ing in­for­ma­tion,” Wat­son said.

Ac­cord­ing to the study sched­ule that Wat­son pre­sented, a draft of the en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact re­port would be pub­lished in the fall of 2019.

Wat­son said dur­ing the Mary­land Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion’s most re­cent phase of the study, which asked res­i­dents to pro­vide their in­put on a third Bay cross­ing, about 400 re­sponses were re­ceived.

“That is un­heard of in their experience here in Mary­land, which sur­prises me be­cause I do think Mary­land is a state that val­ues its plan­ning,” Wat­son said.

At the Jan. 25 meet­ing, au­di­ence mem­bers were given three pre-writ­ten let­ters and an en­ve­lope, ad­dressed to Heather Lowe, en­vi­ron­men­tal man­ager for the Mary­land State High­way Ad­min­is­tra­tion. Wat­son en­cour­aged res­i­dents to sign the let­ters and mail them as a way to con­tinue pub­lic re­sponse to the study, she said.

The U.S. Coast Guard, the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency and the Mary­land Depart­ment of Nat­u­ral Re­sources are among the agen­cies that have com­mit­ted to help the Mary­land Trans­porta­tion Author­ity in the first pe­riod of the study.

Wat­son said the Mary­land Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion will present a de­tailed anal­y­sis of the en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact study in the spring of 2019 in a pub­lic meet­ing.

“We’ll prob­a­bly see the sum­mary of the pub­lic com­ments much sooner than that,” Wat­son said.

She said new cor­ri­dor pro­pos­als will have to con­form to the study’s pur­pose and need re­ports in or­der to be ac­cepted. About 10 to 15 po­ten­tial cross­ings will be iden­ti­fied in the fall, and there will be a no-build op­tion.

“Typ­i­cally, the no-build op­tion used to be called the ex­ist­ing con­di­tions op­tion,” Wat­son said. “And ba­si­cally, it’s not nec­es­sar­ily it will al­ways be the way it is, it’s what would keep hap­pen­ing, if the bridge keeps go­ing the way it is.”

Wat­son said she has not been able to con­firm ru­mors that Dorch­ester County and the Town of Cr­is­field in Som­er­set County are in fa­vor of a third Bay cross­ing through their ju­ris­dic­tions.

Fol­low­ing Wat­son’s pre­sen­ta­tion, Kent County com­mis­sion­ers Ron Fithian and Bill Short spoke about their visit to the Mary­land Gen­eral Assem­bly.

Fithian ex­plained Mary­land Statute 4-407, which re­quires that five (a ma­jor­ity) of the nine East­ern Shore coun­ties ap­prove a toll road be­fore it is built. Fithian said the statute is be­ing chal­lenged by a bill in­tro­duced by Sen. Ed­ward Ril­ley.

Fithian said, “A Se­na­tor Ril­ley out of Anne Arun­del County, a week or two ago, put a bill in to re­peal that. To take that voice away from us. So Billy and I left here yes­ter­day morn­ing, and went to An­napo­lis, to op­pose that leg­is­la­tion.”

Fithian said that he came away from the trip to An­napo­lis feel­ing pos­i­tive about his tes­ti­mony op­pos­ing the pro­posed leg­is­la­tion. Fithian said the com­mis­sion­ers will know the bill’s fate near the end of the leg­isla­tive ses­sion in April.

Short said some­times tes­ti­fy­ing in An­napo­lis helps state leg­is­la­tors pay at­ten­tion to the East­ern Shore.

“They have paid at­ten­tion over the last four or five years to al­most ev­ery­thing we’ve taken over there,” Short said. “And the only ques­tion I re­ally had to that com­mit­tee yes­ter­day was, if Se­na­tor Her­shey (R-36-Up­per Shore) was to de­velop a bill like Se­na­tor Ril­ley did, telling the western shore, you can’t vote on some­thing, how would that go over? And it was dead si­lence.”

Dur­ing the pub­lic com­ment sec­tion, Clerk of the Cir­cuit Court for Kent County Mark Mum­ford urged those in the au­di­ence to con­tact their lo­cal of­fi­cials.

“There’s noth­ing that gets heard louder than the vot­ers’ voices, so let them hear you folks,” Mum­ford said.

One res­i­dent pro­posed lo­cat­ing an en­dan­gered species in the county to pre­vent con­struc­tion of an­other Bay cross­ing. Wat­son said the cor­ri­dor would be pass­ing through al­most no wet­lands and there­fore un­likely to dis­turb an­i­mal species.

An­other res­i­dent sug­gested a mea­sure that would for­bid fed­eral fund­ing of a cross­ing, if Kent County was named as the best route for one. Mike Arntz, rep­re­sent­ing the office of 1st District Con­gress­man Andy Harris, said he would take the idea back to Harris.

Harris wrote in an email Satur­day that he be­lieved it was up to the com­mu­nity to de­cide what is best.

“When ma­jor projects, like wind­mills in Ocean City or an­other Bay bridge cross­ing, greatly af­fect a com­mu­nity, I would fully sup­port the de­ci­sion of the lo­cal com­mu­nity with re­gards to the project,” Harris wrote in the email.

Other sug­ges­tions from the au­di­ence in­cluded dif­fer­ent tran­sit op­tions, such as a tun­nel in­stead of a bridge or a ferry sys­tem across the Bay.

“I don’t think any­thing is off the ta­ble,” Wat­son said.

Mem­bers of the au­di­ence also asked how much a pro­posed new bridge would cost.

“So in num­bers, what would this cost? My guess is about 20 bil­lion,” Wat­son said.

PHOTO BY JACK RODGERS

Kent County com­mis­sion­ers Ron Fithian, right, and Bill Short speak dur­ing a Jan. 25 meet­ing hosted by the Kent Con­ser­va­tion and Preser­va­tion Al­liance.

PHOTO BY JACK RODGERS

A “No Bay Bridge to Kent” sign is posted at the in­ter­sec­tion of Mill and High streets in Chestertown. Signs were dis­trib­uted at the Kent Con­ser­va­tion and Preser­va­tion Al­liance-spon­sored meet­ing Jan. 25.

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