LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
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.