County Hopes To Meet With State On Watershed Plan

SNOW HILL — As per last month’s decision to protest the requirements in the state-written Phase II Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP), the Worcester County Commissioners sent a letter of concern to the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) on June 29. At their meeting this Tuesday, the commissioners briefly reviewed what issues they have with the proposed WIP as well as highlighting the steps the county has already taken toward reducing its negative impact on the Chesapeake Bay’s watershed.

In the letter, which was sent to MDE Water Quality Protection and Restoration Program Manager Dr. James George, the commissioners discuss eight requirements proposed in the WIP and list concerns associated with each.

“We also tried to point out our strengths,” said Director of Development Review and Permits Ed Tudor.

Among the many regulations addressed were the need to install 283 acres of urban forest buffers, conserve an additional 95 acres of forest per year for a total of 1,078 acres conserved annually by 2025, the removal of 577 acres of impervious urban services and the installation of an additional 2,800 acres of urban filtering practices.

Commission President Bud Church underlined the economic fragility the county is currently struggling with as the main reason Worcester will not be able to meet the exact letter of the law with certain WIP regulations.

“Given the recent economic challenges in Worcester County which have been exacerbated by the state’s reduction in financial aid, and shifting of other financial burdens to the county which were previous responsibilities of the state, we are concerned that the lack of adequate financial resources and manpower, as well as other constraints, will hamper our ability to successfully achieve these state-supplemented WIP strategies,” wrote Church in the letter to MDE.

Specifically, the commission argued the section of the county that lies in the bay watershed is of a “rural, undeveloped nature” and that the costs of doing something like removing acres of impervious urban surfaces would fall almost completely on the towns of Snow Hill and Pocomoke City.

Other broader troubles include the demand that the WIP would level on county resources, especially staff time.

The commission also called upon MDE to develop a “simplified” method for gauging nutrient reduction credits it would receive for enacting its own strategies. As of now, Worcester already implements a number of conservation and nutrient reduction efforts, according to the commissioners, and plan on looking into more cost-effective solutions such as nutrient offsets.

“Worcester County recognizes the importance of protecting and preserving our natural resources, which are the lifeblood of our county and which sustains the tourism industry on which our local economy is anchored,” Church wrote.

The commission plans to meet with representatives from the state as well as other counties in August to further discuss the WIP.

Commissioner Virgil Shockley said if enough officials and representatives can be gathered under one roof to protest the WIP, he expects a “barn burner.”

“I think that if we can get the meeting I’d like to have … if I can get that meeting then somebody is going to concede something,” he said.

Shockley went on to say that Annapolis has gone “over the line” and that he expects a groundswell of support from other counties, especially on the Eastern Shore, in opposition to the current demands of the WIP. Shockley is optimistic that the state and local counties can agree on less strenuous regulations.