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Rivers in Reach

Bridges to become waterway access points

Charlie Stek paddling the waters of the Chesapeake — exploring a world more Marylanders will be able to enjoy with passage of the Waterway Access Bill.

As cars rumble over newly built bridges, Marylanders will be paddling beneath them. As soon as 2014, bridges will no longer be only routes over rivers. They will also be places where Marylanders can safely get down to the water to fish, canoe and kayak.
    That’s the result of one of more than 350 bills passed by the Maryland General Assembly this year. Passed almost unanimously, only three nays were cast, all in the House, one by Calvert Del. Tony O’Donnell.
    “The Waterway Access Bill (HB 797) enjoyed bipartisan support because it is an easy, low cost bill that will benefit all citizens of Maryland,” said Baltimore Del. Maggie McIntosh, its sponsor and chair of the Environmental Matters Committee where the bill began its journey.
    O’Malley signed the bill April 9. The law goes into effect in October.
    Starting in 2015, the Department of Transportation and local governments must consider any “reasonable and appropriate measures” to provide or improve water access for fishing and paddling when developing a bridge or road construction or improvement project next to or crossing a waterway.
    Projects and cost-effective strategies will be guided by standards and guidelines to be established by two state departments, Transportation and Natural Resources, along with local governments and other stakeholders.
    Stakeholders are many. The bill was supported by both state departments, a coalition of conservationists, paddlers, anglers, recreation and heritage tourism groups and local governments. And, of course, many citizens of Maryland.
    Maryland is now one of only a few states with legislation supporting this kind of public access.
    Charlie Stek, chairman of the Chesapeake Conservancy and one of the bill’s biggest advocates, hopes that Maryland will be an example both to other states and to the nation of how public access to waterways can be created safely and affordably.
    This law benefits today’s anglers and paddlers. It will also help the next generation to get out on the state’s great rivers — making them more likely to become Bay stewards and public access advocates.
    Communities will also benefit as greater access brings people — and their recreational dollars — to local assets.
    As bridges and roads are built and repaired in your community, be on the lookout for how these projects will help you get to your waterways.