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Volume 14, Issue 13 ~ March 30 - April 5, 2006

Burton on the Bay

By Bill Burton

We’re Crowding out the Bay

Destroy our farms and the grass will grow in the streets of every city.

—William Jennings Bryant

Methinks the folks down Cambridge way had better get license plates for their lawn mowers. The way things are going they’ll need ’em. They’re going to be doing a lot of mowing on paved Route 50 on the southeast side of the Choptank River Bridge.

If you’ve been reading the daily press, you know of the billion-dollar-plus development being hatched in Dorchester County. The project would about double the population of Cambridge; about a third of the planned 3,000-plus homes would be on environmentally vulnerable lands along the Little Blackwater River.

Not to be overlooked, either, its 1,800 acres of good agricultural land. Some of that acreage will be devoted to a golf course, tennis courts, conference center and retail outlets. All that, of course, means paving for parking, roads and such, all a stone’s throw from Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, where lie nearly one-third of Maryland’s prime wetlands.

Needed: A Champion

Where’s the Silver Fox now that we need him? I’m referring, of course to the late State Sen. Fred Malkus, who could indeed be contrary when it came to more than a few environmental issues. But overall he was for farming and the rural life — and tradition, the way things were in his countrified Dorchester County.

I’m sure the Silver Fox would still be on the Senate floor in Annapolis filibustering (and he was a whiz at that) for the passage of the bill that went belly up in the State Senate Friday. The bill would have appreciably limited the dastardly development on the Little Blackwater.

I can see him now: standing erect, his head of silver leaning back, eyes half closed, reminiscing about the rural life now threatened, refusing to yield the floor — and just hoping that the likes of Sen. Pres. Mike Miller would cave and cast a vote for tradition, farmers and the environment. Fred Malkus could have made a difference.

Who Gets the Say?

Lost in all of this on the Blackwater project are repercussions that go far beyond the growth and jobs for Cambridge. The locals — and they’re divided on the issue — were due consideration in the debate on this project. But should they have the final word?

This is quite different than, say, the black bear issue in Western Maryland. Legislators out that way want bear hunting to continue, and they strongly object to efforts from the east to shut down the special seasons to curb bruin populations. They’re the ones who have to live with the bears, and with bears, there is little if any impact on the remainder of the state.

In this Blackwater mess, ramifications go far beyond Cambridge and Dorchester. Did the 21 senators who voted the bill down give even a passing thought to the troubled Chesapeake? Or to Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, one of the most popular, vibrant and important refuges on the East Coast?

It’s Our Bay

Cambridge raves about its efficient waste disposal facilities, but as good as they might be, they’re not perfect. Adding another 10,000 people or so is bound to pressure its facilities, which means more flow into the Choptank, which of course flows into Chesapeake Bay. It’s our Bay, and many of us are fighting for its restoration. To my way of thinking, we have as much if not more interest in all of this as do the development-minded citizens of Cambridge.

Also, though the Little Blackwater — once a good fishing hole — is pretty much filled in, are we to give up on it? Are we to allow it to become a victim of macadam covering parking lots, buildings and such? Hey, it flows into the Choptank and the Choptank into the Bay.

What about the refuge so vital to migrating and wintering-over waterfowl in addition to other resident wildlife?

Concerns remain that farmland giving way to development of the magnitude expected will bring polluted runoff that will impact the entire Blackwater Watershed. Folks at Cambridge might accuse us of meddling — and they made their point with senators. But those of us on this side of the Chesapeake have the obligation (not just the right) to get involved. It’s our Bay.

I wonder if the senators voting against the bill that would have protected wetlands within a thousand feet of the Little Blackwater gave any thought to the bottom line: Preservation of the Bay and Blackwater Refuge. What’s next, another development so close to Blackwater that birdwatchers can take in the wildlife via binoculars from their condos?

Hidden behind all the maneuvering and lobbying are a few worrisome aspects. Were the senators listening when Kin Coble, Maryland director of Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said, “Given a choice between an acre of farmland and an acre of residential development, the best thing for the Bay is farmland?”

Do the Job We Pay For

Also, did the senators appreciate that in their action, they opened Pandora’s box once again? While they rant and rave about saving the Bay, they continue to chip away at the efforts of us working in the trenches to do just that. They should be teaming up with us, not the opposite.

What we need from them, their counterparts in the House of Delegates and the governor’s office is a rigid, no-nonsense code of land use as it applies to Chesapeake Bay. The bottom line needs to be what’s best for Bay restoration.

The way things are going, they’re bleeding us to death. The developers not only have more funds, paid personnel and supporters in government than we do — they pretty much have their way. They’re doing it everywhere from Deep Creek Lake to Ocean City. We’re fragmented, and we don’t have the financial resources and the time to fight back effectively. We’re trying to put out brush fires and we’re losing the battle. And the war.

Perhaps our leaders should skip a few lunches with lobbyists and come up with a workable and comprehensive land-use code and see that it’s effectively carried out. I say give us something viable to support and work for and with; also some support in our endeavors.

The way things are going, the only thing that will be left unpaved and uncluttered will be the Chesapeake itself. Surely a few developers are trying to figure out how that can be done. Enough said.

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