County To Host Bay Bridge Toll Hearing

OCEAN CITY — In order to provide residents of the Lower Eastern Shore with an opportunity to comment on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge toll increase plan proposed earlier this month by the Maryland Transportation Authority (MDTA), Senator James Mathias and Delegate Norm Conway this week requested and received an additional public hearing on the issue scheduled for July in Ocean City.

The Lower Shore public hearing will take place on Thursday, July 14, in the Ocean City area from 5:30-8 p.m. although no meeting location has been finalized. Nine other public hearings are already scheduled, including the only other one on the Eastern Shore, which was held in Kent County on Wednesday. The 60-day public comment period began June 2 and will continue through Aug. 1.

According to the proposal, the toll at the Bay Bridge would double from the current $2.50 for a one-way passage to $5 as soon as this fall, with another increase to $8 by 2013, effectively doubling, then tripling the rate to cross the major conduit to the Eastern Shore and the resort area.

The toll increases are expected to generate $77 million in additional revenue in the first year alone for the MDTA, a self-supporting state agency that finances, owns, operates and maintains Maryland’s eight toll facilities. MDTA officials this week pointed out the increased cost of maintaining the structures, including an estimated $225 million for the Bay Bridge alone, as they attempted to justify the increase.

Piping Plover Closures Announced

ASSATEAGUE — Assateague Island National Seashore officials this week closed a portion of the Over-Sand Vehicle (OSV) route on the barrier island for at least the next month to accommodate breeding piping plovers.

A closure of the southern section of the OSV route at the Assateague Island National Seashore began on Tuesday and is expected to be in effect for up to four weeks. As a result, all public use, including vehicle and pedestrian access, south of kilometer marker 24.3 will be prohibited.

The closure is necessary to protect piping plovers, small migratory shorebirds that nest on open, sandy beaches and raise their chicks along the ocean, bay and interior sand flats where they feed on insects and other invertebrates.

On Assateague, the piping plover breeding season generally runs from April through mid-August. Plovers are easily disturbed by humans and will leave their nests if approached.

Diakonia Reconfigures Facility

WEST OCEAN CITY — The Diakonia shelter in West Ocean City is adjusting and adapting its facilities to meet the needs of more families in the area displaced by the ongoing economic recession and associated foreclosure crisis.

Economic pressures and the foreclosure crisis have contributed to a sharp increase in homelessness in Worcester County. According to numbers provided by the Public Justice Center, the number of homeless children has more than doubled over the past two years.

“If anything, the numbers are understated,” said Diakonia Executive Director Claudia Nagle. “There are plenty of families who are moving from place to place and living temporarily with friends, but have no real home. These families are not counted under the HUD rules for counting homeless.”

To help address this problem, Diakonia, the only shelter in Worcester County that accepts men, women and children, is reconfiguring part of its facility to house more families.

“Typically, about a quarter of our residents are children, but this change will allow us to house additional families, increasing the number of children we serve,” said Nagle. “Unfortunately, our resources are limited and we can’t house them all, but we want to help as many children as we can.”

Diakonia provides emergency and transitional housing in West Ocean City. The organization also operates a food pantry and homelessness prevention program to help people from becoming homeless.

Salisbury Geocache Dash A Hit

SALISBURY — Last Saturday, June 11, over 350 cachers participated in Wicomico County’s first Geocache Dash, a joint effort of the Wicomico County Convention & Visitors Association and Wicomico County Recreation, Parks & Tourism.

Geocachers from six states and 58 towns participated in the free, family-friendly event that sent cachers on a virtual trail to 22 locations across Wicomico County. Participants were able to explore several of the area’s hidden treasures including parks, marinas, museums, and historical sites while searching for the caches.

After a full day of searching, cachers convened at Pemberton Historical Park to celebrate their finds.  During the celebration, cachers who found 18 or more caches received a custom 2011 Wicomico Geocache Dash trackable geocoin. The weather held out just long enough for cachers to enjoy an all-you-can-eat crab and corn dinner from Fat Boys Crabs.

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