County Delays Approval Of Watershed Plan

SNOW HILL — Dissatisfaction with the current language in a state-required Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP) caused the Worcester County Commissioners to delay authorization of the proposal Tuesday.

“There are so many unknowns,” said Commissioner Madison Bunting while analyzing the WIP.

After reviewing the plan, Bunting felt that the wording was not “generic enough” and could have a negative impact on Worcester.

“We haven’t even addressed cost,” he said.

Commissioner Virgil Shockley expressed concern about how the WIP would “lump” Worcester in with other areas.

“I see us doing everything we can and still getting slammed,” he said.

Bunting noted that as far as he knew Virginia and Pennsylvania weren’t becoming involved in the WIP process at all.

“Are we eventually going to be responsible for the states that won’t be doing anything?” he asked.

Development Review and Permitting Director Ed Tudor confirmed Bunting’s point about the number of uncertainties with the WIP.

“Who knows when this is all going to line up,” Tudor said. “You just have to take it one day at a time.”

Tudor described the process of dealing with state requests for the WIP as a period of “constant change” and acknowledged that there are reasons for the commission to be cautious. However, not approving the WIP by the Dec. 15 deadline could have its own consequences, warned Tudor.

Commissioner Judy Boggs agreed.

“My only fear is if we don’t submit something [the state] will fill it in for us,” she said.

County Attorney Sonny Bloxom felt the same.

“You know how the state is,” he told the commission. “They’ll do it for you.”

In the event the deadline is not met, Chief Administrative Officer Gerald Mason stressed that Worcester might stand alone in its hesitancy.

“So if we take this tact, we are likely to be out there on our own,” he said, noting that most other counties will or already have submitted WIPs.

Despite the warnings, the commission still felt it would be more prudent to sit on the fence with the WIP until more details are known.

“We should tell [the state] that we’re not going to say anything until we know where we stand,” said Bunting.

The commissioners agreed, with the exception of Boggs, who reiterated her fear that Worcester would be risking repercussions.

“We don’t have a hammer,” she said. “The state has a hammer.”

The commission will send a letter to Annapolis stating that the WIP is a work-in-progress and will not be completed by Dec. 15.

The decision provoked criticism from Assateague Coastal Trust Executive Director and Coastkeeper Kathy Phillips, who said her organization was “extremely disappointed by the County Commissioners failure to take some very simple steps to protect our water quality while contributing to state wide efforts to save the Chesapeake Bay.”

Phillips said the commissioners have “used this opportunity to kick the can down the road, shirk their responsibility, and then complain the state is forcing mandates upon them. The sad thing is Worcester’s Chesapeake watershed is such a small piece and the load reductions were so small they could have been addressed easily with available grants and other available resources.”

Phillips said her hope is that the Environmental Protection Agency and Maryland Department of the Environment will “force compliance by Worcester County.”