NOAA hosts meet­ing on Mal­lows Bay

Area home to his­toric ship­wrecks be­ing con­sid­ered as sanc­tu­ary

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

Mal­lows Bay could be one of the new­est at­trac- tions to cast a na­tional spot­light on Charles County, but be­fore any de­ci­sions are made on its des­ig­na­tion as a Na­tional Marine Sanc­tu­ary, the pub­lic has to be con­sid­ered.

On Tues­day night, the Na­tional Oceanic and At­mo­spheric Ad­min­is­tra- tion (NOAA) held a pub­lic hear­ing to al­low the com­mu­nity to voice its opin­ions.

“It’s about try­ing to work with all the voices to craft a prod­uct that we can say is suit­able as a na­tional marine sanc­tu­ary,” said Sammy Or­lando, a re­gional co­or­di­na­tor for NOAA. “These are

des­ti­na­tions for tourists, not only lo­cally, but across the world.”

With that be­ing said, how­ever, there was no con­sen­sus from the com- mu­nity on what should be done at Mal­lows Bay.

NOAA gave the com- mu­nity the choice be­tween four al­ter­na­tives. One be­ing no sanc­tu­ary des­ig­na­tion at all, an­other be­ing an 18-square-mile cov­er­age area on the wa­ter, the other be­ing a 52-square-mile cov­er­age area con­tain­ing more than 100 sunken World War I ves­sels and the fi­nal be­ing a des­ig­na­tion of 100 square miles.

Orig­i­nally, NOAA ap­proached the com­mu­nity af­ter first hear­ing of the site with the 18-squaremile cov­er­age area as its pre­ferred al­ter­na­tive. How­ever, Or­lando said, af­ter hear­ing more pub­lic com­ment and about more po­ten­tial ship­wrecks, the ad­min­is­tra­tion de­cided to go for­ward with the 52-square-mile area as its pre­ferred al­ter­na­tive.

How­ever, no de­ci­sions have been made re­gard­ing what the fi­nal choice will be, Or­lando said. “This is not the end­point. This is the mid­dle point,” he said.

Bon­nie Mor­ris, head of the Charles County Cham­ber of Com­merce, called the move to switch pre­ferred al­ter­na­tives by NOAA a “bait and switch.”

Al­ter­na­tive B, with a cov- er­age area of 18 square miles, was “col­lec­tively sup­ported as some­thing the en­tire com­mu­nity could ben­e­fit from,” Mor- ris said.

“The ex­pan­sion of 52 miles will not cre­ate great- er pro­tec­tion than what is cur­rently avail­able un­der Mary­land law,” Mor­ris said.

Brian Klaas, a mem­ber of the cham­ber of com- merce, said he did sup­port the orig­i­nal des­igna- tion, but the ex­pan­sion be­yond 18 square miles would be “an as­sault on Mary­land’s sovereignty.”

“The only al­ter­na­tive to be con­sid­ered is the al­ter- na­tive that all par­ties orig­i­nally agreed to sup­port,” Klaas said.

Fur­ther­ing the des­ig­na­tion would be a waste of money and re­sources, Klaas said. He noted lo­cal land use poli­cies are al­ready re­strict­ing cit­i­zen’s in­dus­trial and com­mer­cial abil­ity, but an “11th hour change” would be even more over­reach in this case.

Jim Long, pres­i­dent of the Mat­ta­woman Water­shed Society, sup­ported al­ter­na­tive D with a 100-square-mile cov­er­age area. The pub­lic sen­ti­ment, he said, is that there would be added mar­itime her­itage and “broader op­por­tu­ni­ties for tourism, re­cre­ation and ed­u­ca­tion.”

The con­cerns about any re­stric­tions on fish­ing, recre­ational ac­tiv­i­ties and other things that cur­rently hap­pen in the bay are be­ing over­stated, Long said. NOAA has made clear, he said, that those ac­tiv­i­ties would not be re­stricted.

“The sanc­tu­ary does not in­tro­duce re­stric­tions on fish­ing, both re­cre­ation and com­mer­cial. Rather, the sanc­tu­ary pro­tects mar­itime as­sets in the wa- ter, like the ghost fleet,” Long said.

But Robert Brown, pres- ident of the Mary­land Wa- ter­man’s As­so­ci­a­tion, said al­ter­na­tive A — with no sanc­tu­ary at all — is what fits best. What has been hap­pen­ing in the bay is al­ready reg­u­lated by the state, he said, and there do not need to be more reg­u­la­tions in­volved.

“They want to take up the bet­ter part of our riv- er. What isn’t be­ing said is that they can come back and change the man­age­ment plan,” he said. “They can come back and tell us you all can’t fish in this area or can’t crab in this area. I don’t even be­lieve the amount of wrecks they say are there even ex­ist.”

Many other mem­bers of the wa­ter­man’s as­soci- ation agreed with Brown, who said the bay is “do­ing fine on its own.” The as­so­ci­a­tion be­lieves that there does not need to be any more reg­u­la­tion in the bay.

The bay is dirty and filled with sewage and sludge, Brown said, and many wa­ter­man are left with the duty of clean­ing it up. Peo­ple there now can do what they want in the wa­ter.

But Anne Stark, a Wal- dorf cit­i­zen, said the bay needs more pro­tec­tion be­cause of the way the wa­ter has been treated. There needs to be some sort of pro­tec­tion against dump­ing and pro­tec­tion for the ghost fleet.

As far as any­one’s liveli­hood, Stark said, there would not be any fur­ther re­stric­tions ac­cord­ing to NOAA. Peo­ple would still be able to fish and make a liv­ing, she said, but the only way to make sure of that is if peo­ple lis­ten to each other and find a com­mon ground.

“This is ev­ery­one’s sanc­tu­ary,” Stark said. “I know you feel that this wors­ens your liveli­hood, but just lis­ten to what ev­ery­one is say­ing.”

Or­lando said, as far as fish­eries in the area go, the pub­lic has made clear that they do not want them in­ter­fered with. NOAA feels that they have done a good job of keep­ing that in mind through­out the process.

“That was made loud and clear to us through­out the process,” he said.

NOAA will hold an­other pub­lic com­ment ses­sion on March 9 in An­napo­lis. The pub­lic com­ment pe­riod will re­main open, Or­lando said, un­til March 31. Af­ter that, the ad­min­is­tra­tion will sift through the com­ments and de­ter­mine what ac­tion to take.

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