NOAA re­leases up­dated sanc­tu­ary plan for Mal­low’s Bay

Could now in­clude 52 square miles in­stead of 18

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By MICHAEL SYKES II msykes@somd­

Charles County may soon be rec­og­nized on a na­tional level for Mal- lows Bay if it is de­sig- nated a na­tional marine sanc­tu­ary by the Na­tional Oceanic and At­mo­spheric Ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Since Oc­to­ber 2015, NOAA has com­pleted en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact stud­ies, land sur­veys and other ex­am­i­na­tions to see how much of the area needs to be des­ig­nated and pro­tected as a sanc­tu­ary.

On Fri­day, NOAA re­leased its draft

en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact state­ment to the pub­lic along with more in­for­ma­tion about a new pre­ferred al­ter­na­tive de­rived from pub­lic com­ment that would ex­pand the bay’s sanc­tu­ary area to 52 square miles of the Po­tomac River rather than the 18 pro­posed a year ago.

Sammy Or­lando, a re­gional co­or­di­na­tor for NOAA and a spokesman for the na­tional sanc­tu­ary pro­gram, said com­ing up with a pre­ferred al­ter- na­tive is the hard­est part of the process be­cause of all the dif­fer­ent fac­tors.

“There are a lot of con­sid­er­a­tions that go into it and it’s re­ally a com­bi­na­tion. But the most im­por­tant is what is the fed­eral ac­tion and what we’re try­ing to ac­com­plish,” Or­lando said. “We wanted to cre­ate a ship­wreck site to re­lay the cul­tural as­sets and fea­tures of that re­gion. The sec­ond part is the ex­plo­ration of op­tions. What are the op­tions we have to achieve that? One way was through pub­lic com­ment.”

Many com­ments that were re­ceived from the pub­lic were re­quests for bound­ary ex­pan­sions and newly dis­cov­ered ship­wrecks.

Ac­cord­ing to NOAA’s re­port, Mal­lows Bay, lo­cated in Nan­je­moy, “boasts a di­verse col­lec­tion of nearly 200 known his­toric ship­wrecks dat­ing back to the Civil War.” There are also ar­chae­o­log­i­cal ar­ti­facts dat­ing back 12,000 years.

The cur­rently se­lected pre­ferred al­ter­na­tive in­cludes more than 100 known and po­ten­tial ship­wrecks as well as sites re­lated to Na­tive Amer- ican cul­ture, the re­port said.

The north­ern bound­ary in­cluded in that plan would ex- tend near Ben Doane Road in Mary­land to Pos­sum Nose, Va. The south­ern bound­ary ex­tends from the end of Ow- ens Drive to Benny Gray Point. The area in­cludes both known and po­ten­tial ship­wrecks.

In the 18 square mile al­ter- na­tive, the sanc­tu­ary bound­aries would just ex­tend to the length of the Mal­lows Bay reg­is­tered his­toric district.

It is im­por­tant to un­der­stand, Or­lando said, that the bound­ary ex­ten­sion does not ap­ply to any ar­eas on land and only cov­ers the area of the Po­tomac River. Any­thing that was done on land prior to any des­ig­na­tion would re­main the same, he said.

Charles County Com­mis­sion­ers’ Pres­i­dent Peter Mur­phy (D) called the bay a “hid­den jewel” in Charles County and said it has been for a cen­tur y. Now, he said, it is some­thing every­one in the area can en­joy.

“Thanks to Pres­i­dent Obama’s marine sanc­tu­ary nom­i­na­tion, we will be able to share this with not only our res­i­dents but with new vis­i­tors to the county who will be able to ex­plore and ex­pe­ri­ence first-hand the her­itage of our na­tion,” Mur­phy said.

County Com­mis­sioner Ken Robin­son (D) said Mal­lows Bay be­ing des­ig­nated as a sanc­tu­ary is one of the things he is more ex­cited about in 2017 for Charles County.

This year will be the cen­ten­nial year of the United States’ en­try into World War I. Get- ting the des­ig­na­tion for the bay, where many ship­wrecks from the war re­main still, makes the des­ig­na­tion more spe­cial, he said.

“It’s def­i­nitely un­prece­dent- ed ter­ri­tory for us,” Robin­son said.

Robin­son said it “made a lot of sense” to ex­pand the area from 52 miles from 18 miles be­cause “that will en­sure that all of th­ese wrecks are pro­tected for­ever.”

Be­fore the des­ig­na­tion is an­nounced, he said, the county is go­ing to open up an in­for­ma­tion cen­ter by the end of April to com­mem­o­rate the an­niver­sary of World War I. The in­for­ma­tion cen­ter will be open some­where in In­dian Head.

“We’re look­ing at sev­eral sites,” Robin­son said. “And likely on 210.”

Once the sanc­tu­ary is des­ig­nated, the county will open a vis­i­tor cen­ter in the western por­tion of the county as well. The vis­i­tor cen­ter will not be on the sanc­tu­ary, but will be within a 10-mile range of it.

Now that the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion is over, Robin­son said he hopes Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump (R) will come down and as­sist the county with cut­ting the rib­bon to open the sanc­tu­ary.

The first pub­lic meet­ing on the bay is sched­uled for March 7 at the Charles County Gov­ern­ment Build­ing in La Plata. The pub­lic com­ment pe­riod opens im­me­di­ately and will re­main open un­til March 31.

Once the pub­lic com­ment pe­riod closes, Or­lando said NOAA, the state and the county gov­ern­ment will be­gin to re­view the en­tries and mod­ify, “if needed,” he said, doc­u­ments that are out for re­view. The process will likely not be com­pleted un­til at least a year’s time has passed, he said.

“That process typ­i­cally takes about a year. We want to do the right amount of lis­ten­ing and con­sider the op­tions that are of­fered back up to us,” he said. “It takes about a year to two year’s time.”

Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md., 5th) said the bay is a trea­sure to the county and some­thing that prob­a­bly could not hap­pen to­day.

Hoyer, Sens. Ben Cardin (DMd.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) all re­leased a joint state­ment on NOAA’s re­lease of the draft en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact state­ment and pro­posed rule for ex­pan­sion.

They are en­cour­aged, the state­ment said, that the process con­tin­ues to move for­ward and are look­ing for­ward to the busi­ness im­pact be­hind the sanc­tu­ary. They are also look­ing for­ward to in­put from the com­mu­nity in the com­ing months, the state­ment said.

“We will be work­ing with NOAA to make sure the pub­lic fully un­der­stands the need for and im­pact on the ground of this des­ig­na­tion and has their ques­tions ad­dressed,” the state­ment said.


More than 100 ship­wrecks are in Mal­lows Bay in the Po­tomac River off the west coast of Charles County. The area is now un­der­go­ing fed­eral re­view to be­come a na­tional marine sanc­tu­ary.

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