Mal­lows Bay takes an­other step to­ward fed­eral des­ig­na­tion

Comes closer to fed­eral sanc­tu­ary des­ig­na­tion

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - Twitter: @SykesIndyNews By MICHAEL SYKES II msykes@somd­news.com

Mal­lows Bay is one step closer to re­ceiv­ing a na­tional ma­rine sanc­tu­ary des­ig­na­tion.

The bay, lo­cated in Nan­je­moy off of Wilson Land­ing Road, is home to a ship grave­yard, and Charles County Com­mis­sioner Ken Robin­son (D) said the fed­eral des­ig­na­tion will help the county stay com­mit­ted to its ded­i­ca­tion in bal­anc­ing de­vel­op­ment with en­vi­ron­men­tal land preser­va­tion. After a visit from Con­gress­man Steny Hoyer (D-Md. 5th) last week, the des­ig­na­tion is closer than ever to be­com­ing re­al­ity, Robin­son said.

The county has al­ready gone through the first round of pub­lic hear­ings on the bay, which is a requirement in the process for get­ting the des­ig­na­tion. Now, Robin­son said, the Na­tional Oceanic and At­mo­spheric Ad­min­is­tra­tion is do­ing an en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact study that will be re­leased some time after the elec­tion.

“Once that hap­pens, things will go into high gear and there will be an­other op­por­tu­nity for pub­lic com­ment,” Robin­son said. “Then NOAA will present a few dif­fer­ent op­tions on how large the area will be.”

The area cur­rently be­ing pro­posed is just a 14-square-mile area en­com­pass­ing the bay, but Robin­son said that will likely in­crease after the en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact study is com­pleted be­cause “they just keep dis­cov­er­ing more ship­wrecks.”

There is still a lot of work to do for the des­ig­na­tion and more ships are con­tin­u­ously be­ing dis­cov­ered, Robin­son said. But that is the en­tire point of the process, he said.

“We want this to be a place of dis­cov­ery,” Robin­son said.

Sammy Or­lando, the NOAA re­gional co­or­di­na­tor or­ga­niz­ing the bay’s sanc­tu­ary des­ig­na­tion, said things are in progress and are on track for a timely des­ig­na­tion.

“We’re still work­ing on the en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact study, but things are in progress and go­ing well,” he said.

Get­ting the des­ig­na­tion for the bay would be a land­mark for a new era in Charles County where tourism can grow to be one of the county’s big­gest eco­nomic driv­ers, Robin­son said.

The site is so close to Wash­ing­ton, D.C., and will serve as a nat­u­ral at­trac­tion for peo­ple who come into the re­gion, Robin­son said. The boats are unique be­cause “this is some­thing that could not be done to­day, but made sense back then.”

Hoyer agreed with Robin­son’s as­sess­ment of the sanc­tu­ary, stat­ing that many of the ships now serve as “ar­ti­fi­cial reefs” for the wildlife liv­ing in the bay. Be­cause of that, dis­turb­ing the ships could re­ally dis­rupt the nat­u­ral habi­tats of many wildlife species liv­ing in the area.

“There are al­most 150 wooden ves­sels sig­nif­i­cance,” Hoyer said, to the ships as well.

“To do what they did back then to­day would not be al­lowed. That was a burn­ing. They’d burn them and sink them. It ob­vi­ously pol­luted the wa­ter,” he said. “It will be a tourist at­trac­tion. Peo­ple will come and learn a lit­tle bit about their his­tory and the en­vi­ron­ment.”

Once the des­ig­na­tion is made and ap­proved by the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, Robin­son said, who­ever is elected pres­i­dent will likely be vis­it­ing Charles County for the rib­bon-cut­ting cer­e­mony at the bay.

“This will put the county on the map in a way it never has been be­fore,” he said. “Peo­ple will be blown away.”

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