County Concerns Jeopardize Bishopville Pond Project

BERLIN – Supporters of the Bishopville Pond project continue to seek ways to move the project forward, with new plans calling for an application for federal stimulus money, but county staff’s recent reservations on the project could derail the long-awaited work.

“I feel like we can make this project happen,” said Maryland Coastal Bays Program (MCBP) Director Dave Wilson.

The bays program is coordinating the project, which is working with funding and assistance from several different sources, including the state and other non-profits. Local government support is crucial to the project, Wilson said. The county owns the pond.

“I don’t think the county wants to abandon it and I think it’s something we want to pursue,” said Worcester County Commission President Bud Church.

That support, however, is not ensured. County staff has told Church they have some concerns that changing anything about the pond might cause flooding on private property.

A recent e-mail from Deputy County Administrator Kelly Shanahan said that the county was no longer in a position to support the project, Church said. He said he then questioned staff on why they were making unilateral decisions contradicting the commissioners’ position on Bishopville pond and was told by county Administrator Gerry Mason that this opinion had been passed on to him by staff.

“I said everything flooded in the last storm. There was 15 inches of rain,” Church said.

Wilson disagrees that flooding would be an issue. The likelihood of flooding would be lessened, not increased, by the project, which is simply about moving fish upstream and improving habitat, he said.

“I’m getting two completely different stories,” said Church.

Both sides will meet soon to discuss the project, Church said.

Currently, MCBP plans to allocate $100,000 of its own money, along with funding from the Chesapeake Bay Trust, for the $1 million project to revamp Bishopville Pond to allow fish to move upriver to spawn and to improve water quality downstream.

Supporters will seek the remainder of the funding through the new federal stimulus bill.

“We’re partnering with the Chesapeake Bay Trust to interest some stimulus money,” said MCBP Science Coordinator Roman Jesien.

The project has nearly $600,000 of the $1 million project cost secured. The design for the pond work is 95 percent complete. MCBP also needs to seek county, state and federal permits.

The work, along with a companion project to restore forested wetlands at the Lizard Hill borrow pit site, was originally slated for substantial mitigation funding from the Maryland State Highway Administration. That funding has been withdrawn and the Lizard Hill project put off.

“Though we haven’t made it very public, we have been working on this thing right along,” said Jesien. “It’s just a matter of finding the necessary money for it. It’s a lot of money for these times.” 

Jesien said he is not counting on stimulus funding being awarded to the Bishopville project. “I’d be surprised if we get it. There’s a lot of competition for it,” said Jesien. “We hope a lot but expect little.”

The project has been in development for nearly a decade.

“We think it’s an important project and can really improve the water quality in that area and habitat value,” Jesien said. “We think it’s worth the wait and the perseverance.”

The project will restore 41 acres of floodplain and three acres of stream and wetland habitat. The project calls for partial demolition of the dam, which prevents alewife, river herring, and blue back herring from traveling up the river to spawn. A sand stream would be constructed around the pond, which would cause gently rising levels and allow spawning fish to reach about seven miles of water on the north side of the dam.

“It will be vegetated so it will look like just a regular stream,” said Jesien.

Some of the pond will be dredged and sand will be added, reducing the harmful nutrients locked into the sediment from the last 50 years of run-off. Excess nutrients, and low water flow in Bishopville Prong, deoxygenate water in the summer.

“All that organic matter is decomposing and that sucks the oxygen out of the water, and we have oxygen depletion about a mile downstream,” said Jesien. “Typically, every summer we have fish kills because the oxygen is so low.”

Bishopville Prong feeds into the highly impaired St. Martin River.

“People in that area are probably sick and tired of hearing about it. They shouldn’t give up, however. That project is still good. A lot of people want to get it completed,” said Jesien. “They shouldn’t be discouraged.”