Record Observer - - Opion -

Rep. Andy Har­ris has fi­nally dared to meet with his con­stituents in Kent and Queen Anne’s coun­ties later this month.

It is about time; but if things go as he and his col­leagues in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives plan, he will just present us with a fait ac­com­pli only.

He has held no meet­ings with con­stituents (ex­cept for some pre-screened phone con­fer­ences); has not heard from the vast ma­jor­ity of cit­i­zens or ex­plained what the long-awaited plan is, so that we the peo­ple can have some in­put. Now, if things go as planned, the House Com­mit­tees will mark up the bill this week, the House will pass it later this month.

This with­out hear­ings, the nor­mal be­gin­ning of the leg­isla­tive process, where those most af­fected by the leg­is­la­tion have a chance to com­ment. As planned now, the bill will have passed the House be­fore we the cit­i­zens even know what’s in it and how it will im­pact us. And no chance to be heard.

That is not the way to gov­ern, Mr. Har­ris.

The ques­tion now is whether Mr. Har­ris and other Mem­bers of Congress will have the courage to de­mand that the bill be slowed down for hear­ings? Will he lis­ten to his con­stituents BE­FORE the bill be­comes law, so that we have a chance for in­put?

How will he present the fi­nal, fin­ished House ver­sion of the bill to the cit­i­zens of Kent and Queen Anne’s, many of whom are el­derly, many of whom came to this area specif­i­cally be­cause of the ex­cel­lent health care pro­vided here?

We await his ap­pear­ance, be­lated as it is.

The Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Foun­da­tion adamantly op­poses any re­duc­tion in the oys­ter sanc­tu­ar­ies. So do 29 other con­ser­va­tion groups which submitted a let­ter of op­po­si­tion to the state Depart­ment of Nat­u­ral Re­sources.

The pub­lic at large also is against the idea of open­ing sanc­tu­ar­ies to har­vest. A bi­par­ti­san poll last month com­mis­sioned by CBF found about 90 per­cent of Mary­land vot­ers, across party lines, want the state to pro­tect oys­ter sanc­tu­ar­ies.

The poll was con­ducted by two polling com­pa­nies, one Repub­li­can, one Demo­crat.

“This is about as over­whelm­ing as you can get on any pub­lic pol­icy is­sue,” said Lori Weigel, a poll­ster with the Repub­li­can firm, Pub­lic Opin­ion Strate­gies.

Yet DNR has pre­sented a pro­posal that would al­low har­vest­ing on nearly 1,000 acres of oys­ter sanc­tu­ar­ies. The Mary­land Oys­ter Ad­vi­sory Com­mis­sion is ex­pected to con­sider the pro­posal, and make rec­om­men­da­tions back to the DNR.

The read­er­ship area of the Star Demo­crat would hit hard by the change. A to­tal of 679 sanc­tuar y acres would be elim­i­nated on the Up­per Ch­ester, the Miles, the Wye, and the Up­per Chop­tank rivers. While some acres would also be added in the Mill Hill, Eastern Bay and Lower Chop­tank sanc­tu­ar­ies, the Mid-Shore re­gion would suf­fer a net loss of 379 acres of some of the health­i­est sanc­tu­ary ar­eas in the Ch­e­sa­peake.

Sci­en­tists say the sanc­tu­ar­ies are crit­i­cal to safe­guard against the un­think­able, los­ing the last re­main­ing oys­ters in the Ch­e­sa­peake, and to re­verse the fate of the iconic bi­valve. Fol­low­ing those warn­ings, the state in­creased the area of sanc­tu­ary reefs in 2010 from nine to 24 per­cent. At the same time, the state loos­ened reg­u­la­tions on oys­ter farm­ing to help wa­ter­men in­crease their liveli­hoods.

The cur­rent pol­icy is work­ing. A DNR re­port this past July con­cluded that oys­ters are thriv­ing in many of the sanc­tu­ary reefs. They are serv­ing as nurs­eries where oys­ters can grow large, and spawn. And oys­ter farm­ing has surged, bring­ing added in­come to many wa­ter­men.

We must leave well enough alone.

Leav­ing a quar­ter of our oys­ter reefs undis­turbed is the best state pol­icy — for restor­ing the oys­ter pop­u­la­tion, clean­ing our wa­ter, and for the fu­ture of the oys­ter har­vest. Repub­li­can, Demo­crat and In­de­pen­dent vot­ers in Mar yland un­der­stand that com­mon-sense ap­proach.

We hope the state of Mary­land does as well.

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