NOAA hosts meeting on Mallows Bay
Area home to historic shipwrecks being considered as sanctuary
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.