‘Why so much?’

Maryland Independent - - Sports - Jamie Drake jamiedrake­out­doors@out­look.com

It ap­pears as if the next na­tional ma­rine sanc­tu­ary is go­ing right here in South­ern Mary­land. And it’s a big deal.

There are only 13 sanc­tu­ar­ies and two ma­rine mon­u­ments, and many hope this des­ig­na­tion and the much-hoped-for vis­i­tor’s cen­ter and science labs will bring jobs and tourism to the western part of Charles County.

Over the past three years, the Na­tional Oceanic and At­mo­spheric Ad­min­is­tra­tion and var­i­ous part­ners in the pub­lic and pri­vate sec­tor have been work­ing closely to­gether to come up with a mu­tu­ally-agree­able plan since the orig­i­nal nom­i­na­tion was sub­mit­ted in 2014.

I at­tended NOAA’s pub­lic scop­ing meet­ing held ear­lier this month in La Plata to hear what peo­ple had to say about the new­est de­vel­op­ments in the quest to turn Mal­lows Bay along the Po­tomac into a na­tional ma­rine sanc­tu­ary.

It’s an un­der­tak­ing that aims to syn­the­size the opin­ions of a di­verse group of peo­ple into one co­her­ent plan, and un­der­stand­ably the evening was lively and at times a bit rowdy as peo­ple spoke and the crowd re­acted to com­ments.

When the meet­ing was over, many peo­ple re­mained in the aisles of the au­di­to­rium, con­tin­u­ing to dis­cuss the is­sues and per­suade one an­other.

When the sanc­tu­ary sta­tus was orig­i­nally pro­posed, the com­mu­nity was over­whelm­ingly sup­port­ive.

The nom­i­na­tion in­cluded three parks — Mal­lows Bay, Purse State Park along the Po­tomac and Wide­wa­ter State Park in Vir­ginia. Known now as “Al­ter­na­tive B,” it cov­ered 18 square miles with six miles of shore­line.

Sammy Or­lando, an of­fi­cial from NOAA’s Ch­e­sa­peake of­fice in An­napo­lis, said that dur­ing the com­ment pe­riod from De­cem­ber 2015 to Jan­uary 2016, many Mary­lan­ders rec­om­mended ex­pand­ing the area to in­clude all the known ship­wrecks and adding more ac­cess points for kayak launches.

And therein is where the prob­lem lies.

Now NOAA’s pre­ferred op­tion has al­most tripled in size, to 52 square miles and 14 miles of shore­line, re­ferred to as “Al­ter­na­tive C,” which does con­tain all the known ship­wrecks in the Po­tomac and adds Cale­don State Park in Vir­ginia.

There’s even a su­per-sized ver­sion, “Al­ter­na­tive D,” which con­tains 100 square miles and 68 miles of shore­line. It is this op­tion that elicited the most out­cry at the meet­ing.

In­deed, many peo­ple ex­pressed that they had sup­ported the orig­i­nal plan and felt like they were now the vic­tims of a “bait and switch.”

Bon­nie Mor­ris, rep­re­sent­ing the more than 600 busi­nesses of the Charles County Cham­ber of Com­merce, stated that the Cham­ber sup­ported the orig­i­nal 18 square mile nom­i­na­tion, but now had “grave con­cerns” about the “un­prece­dented ex­pan­sion of the bound­aries.”

This sen­ti­ment was ex­pressed many times dur­ing

the evening, with peo­ple say­ing that, orig­i­nally, nearly all par­ties seemed to sup­port Al­ter­na­tive B. Some­where in the process, the plan had been hi­jacked and was be­com­ing a “boon­dog­gle” they could no longer sup­port.

A pop­u­lar theme of the evening was “why so much?”

Fis­cally, con­ser­va­tive com­menters ques­tioned why tax­payer dol­lars should be spent on this en­deavor when our coun­try is al­ready in deep debt. To re­ally im­prove the Po­tomac River, many sug­gested in­vest­ing money to mod­ern­ize and ex­pand waste­water treat­ment fa­cil­i­ties which dump mil­lions of gal­lons of sewage into the Po­tomac an­nu­ally.

Dolores Curry, who iden­ti­fied her­self as a grand­mother of the Pis­cat­away Conoy Tribe, said she had changed her mind about the project.

“I haven’t seen a cot­ton-pickin’ thing those ships could do for any­one,” Curry said.

Also in op­po­si­tion was the wa­ter­men’s lobby, in­clud­ing the newly formed Po­tomac River Water­man’s As­so­ci­a­tion.

The wa­ter­men sup­port “Al­ter­na­tive A,” no sanc­tu­ary at all. It’s the word sanc­tu­ary that is the source of their ap­pre­hen­sion.

Oys­ter sanc­tu­ar­ies are a hot-but­ton is­sue these days, and the wa­ter­men aren’t look­ing to cede any more of their turf over to fed­eral or state reg­u­la­tions or take any chances on los­ing ac­cess to valu­able fish­ing ar­eas, ei­ther now or due to some fu­ture reg­u­la­tory out­come.

Or­lando did try to quell those fears and stated that NOAA heard loud and clear the man­date from South­ern Mary­lan­ders to “not mess with” recre­ational and com­mer­cial fish­ing, lo­cal land-use plan­ning and zon­ing and recre­ational fos­sil-hunt­ing.

In a short pre­sen­ta­tion be­fore open­ing up the floor to com­ments, Or­lando as­sured at­ten­dees that nat­u­ral re­sources man­age­ment de­ci­sions will re­main with the Mary­land Depart­ment of Nat­u­ral Re­sources and the Po­tomac Fish­eries River Com­mis­sion.

Bill Kilin­ski, pres­i­dent of the Charles County Wa­ter­men’s As­so­ci­a­tion, called the bait and switch “to­tally un­ac­cept­able” and asked, “How can com­mer­cial fish­er­men trust NOAA? You say com­mer­cial fish­eries won’t be im­pacted. Well, sir, we have been burned be­fore.”

Among the sup­port­ers who showed up that evening were the Mat­ta­woman Wa­ter­shed So­ci­ety, the Port To­bacco River Con­ser­vancy, and sev­eral recre­ational kayak­ing, arche­ol­ogy and his­tory or­ga­ni­za­tions. Quite a few teach­ers came out to show their sup­port for the sanc­tu­ary as an op­por­tu­nity to fur­ther con­nect stu­dents to the en­vi­ron­ment.

“We only have one world, one ocean, one Po­tomac River, one Ch­e­sa­peake Bay,” said Lolita Kior­pes, a teacher at North Point High School in Wal­dorf.

Peo­ple un­der­stand­ably want to pro­tect the re­mains of the ghost fleet, clean up the shore­lines and wa­ter, have bet­ter roads and ac­cess points for boaters and kayak­ers, cre­ate more shore­line fish­ing ar­eas, part­ner with schools to fur­ther ed­u­ca­tional op­por­tu­ni­ties for area youth and pre­serve our area’s rich her­itage. But this des­ig­na­tion doesn’t ac­tu­ally do much at all be­cause it doesn’t add ad­di­tional pro­tec­tions for the ship­wrecks or nat­u­ral re­sources within the sanc­tu­ary.

What this des­ig­na­tion is likely to do is bring tourists and their money to the re­gion. And once this hap­pens, we may end up with fewer ru­ral ar­eas in Charles County, a sad fate in­deed.

The 301 traf­fic, hous­ing tracts and pol­luted wa­ter­ways are now be­com­ing the hall­marks of a county once known for its coun­try­side and rus­tic charm.

For cer­tain, the lit­tle town of In­dian Head could use a boost to their econ­omy. The mayor has been try­ing to at­tract de­vel­op­ment and de­fense con­trac­tors to set up shop out­side the base, and a vis­i­tor’s cen­ter could spur eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment, but in­creased de­vel­op­ment in the western part of the county might be the tip­ping point for one of the last ru­ral strongholds in Charles County: Nan­je­moy.

Des­ig­nat­ing a sanc­tu­ary will be like cre­at­ing a na­tional brand with mar­ket­ing cam­paigns and bumper stick­ers that bear the catchy phrase “Get Wrecked.” And if NOAA gets what it wants, Or­lando promised the des­ig­na­tion would bring tourists by the droves, from all over the globe, to our lit­tle cor­ner of the world.

The Po­tomac River-Mal­lows Bay sanc­tu­ary will be mod­eled af­ter the Thun­der Bay sanc­tu­ary in Michi­gan, which touts re­sorts, glass-bot­tom boat tours and even a week-long film fes­ti­val ev­ery year.

Which brings me back to the theme of the evening, “Why so much?” Those who feel like they’ve been hood­winked have good rea­son to be con­cerned about the ex­pan­sion. When Thun­der Bay was des­ig­nated a sanc­tu­ary in 2000, it en­com­passed 488 square miles. In 2014, the sanc­tu­ary was for­mally ex­panded nearly ten times its orig­i­nal size, to 4,330 square miles.

If you want to weigh in, you can still com­ment on­line or mail a let­ter. Go to http:// sanc­tu­ar­ies.noaa.gov/mal­lows-bay/ for in­struc­tions lo­cated near the bot­tom of the web­page.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.