Worcester Submits Watershed Plan Before Deadline

SNOW HILL — After tweaking the language, the Worcester County Commissioners submitted a Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP) to Annapolis this week, meeting the state’s deadline.

However, some environmental activists are upset that the commission’s adherence to the WIP is evasive since it is “subject to adequate funding,” according to the document signed by the commissioners.

“What troubles ACT is the commissioners’ clear lack of political will to meet the clean water goals of the WIP, claiming dependence on total state funding to implement the county plan, when indeed they have access to many resources to help fund the initiatives necessary to meet these goals,” said Assateague Coastal Trust (ACT) Coastkeeper Kathy Phillips.

Phillips argued that funding can be achieved through grants available from ACT, the Maryland Department of the Environment the Chesapeake Bay Trust, and others.

The cagey language in the WIP wasn’t the only part of the proposal that bothered Phillips.

“… the commissioners have already shown they are not willing to use an obvious source of income, impact fees on new development to fund stormwater and wastewater upgrades to help reduce urban pollution loads to our waterways,” she said. “Indeed, if you read the county’s WIP carefully you will see that while the county claims to meet 50% of their goal towards urban reductions, the plan barely meets 5% of the goal with the BMPs [Best Management Practices] proposed.”

For their part, the commissioners stressed language in the WIP is a safeguard against being bullied into compliance with expensive state projects.

“If we’re doing it, who is funding it?” asked Commissioner Virgil Shockley.

Shockley pointed out that the process is already taking up staff time and that Worcester is committed to reaching the goal stated in the WIP of a “cleaner and healthier Chesapeake Bay” but would have trouble affording state demands if they had to be paid for by county dollars.

Phillips remained critical of the commission’s hesitancy and referenced a chart made by a WIP Action Group that tracks the strength of each county’s WIP and measures whether “clear path forward” is planned for and if measurable results have been achieved.

The group asserts Worcester has shown “somewhat” measurable results, an “only partial” path forward and has been “vague” in identifying milestones. While the group found Worcester’s WIP lacking, it did admit it’s a step in the right direction and “indicates willingness to achieve target reductions, but only provided state funding is made available.”