Wetlands Permits Pave Way For Shore Broadband Project

BERLIN – The effort to connect every corner of Worcester County and the Eastern Shore to broadband high-speed Internet access moved closer to becoming a reality this week when the state Board of Public Works approved a wetlands license for the private/public sector group leading the way.

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley on Wednesday announced the state’s Board of Public Works, consisting of Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, Treasurer Nancy Kopp and Comptroller Peter Franchot, approved a wetlands license for the Maryland Broadband Cooperative, a partnership working to promote economic development through open access to broadband Internet services through a vast fiber optic network from one of the Eastern Shore to the other.

The spine of the network will extend from NASA’s facility on Wallops Island to Salisbury and across the Eastern Shore to the Chesapeake Bay where it will cross over and connect with vast broadband networks on the western shore. Closer to home, the local effort will connect all of Worcester County from Pocomoke to the Delaware line and ultimately link to the larger central system.

In order to facilitate the ongoing expansion of the fiber optic cable network, the cooperative needed wetlands permits from the state. The permits approved by the Board of Public Works on Wednesday will enable the cooperative to install over 16,000 feet of fiber optic cable over and under tidal wetlands along the route from Wallops to the Bay Bridge and everywhere in between.

As their name implies, the permits will allow the cooperative to traverse tidal wetlands as the broadband effort crosses the shore, but they are also needed for other reasons, according to Worcester County Commission President Virgil Shockley, who has been at the center of the effort.

“Those permits are essential for us to get from Pocomoke to the Delaware line,” he said. “There are places where the cable has to cross wetlands, but these permits will allow us to get across bridges and larger bodies of water. Even if we have to run a cable across a bridge like the Choptank, for example, we would need a wetlands permit. This gives us what we need to complete the task.”

A Rural Broadband Communication bill enacted was enacted by state lawmakers in 2006 to bring access to fiber optic lines to the nine counties of the Eastern Shore including Worcester. An Internet Point of Presence (POP) will be located in each county along the route, connecting business and industrial parks, schools, hospitals and residential areas.