SNOW HILL — After a public information session on a proposed shellfish aquaculture operation near South Point failed to ease the worries of some state and county officials last week, the Worcester County Commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to continue their opposition of the project.
“I received four or five phone calls after the meeting from people still with some concerns, mainly over liability,” said Commission President Bud Church.
In the pipeline for nearly three years, the proposed aquaculture operation met with unfavorable views from the commission from its inception. In 2010, the commission penned a letter to John Griffin, secretary of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR), opposing the project due to the potential it had to “conflict with recreational uses in the waterways of Sinepuxent Bay and north near the heavily populated areas of Ocean City and the environs.”
A secondary concern listed at the time was a worry over the clean-up of “rogue” equipment in the event of a major storm. Church, on behalf of the commission, suggested in the 2010 letter that Don Marsh, the man pushing for the aquaculture operation, should look into areas further south in Chincoteague Bay near Green Run or Whale Gizzard Shoal.
While the original proposed location has changed since that time, the commission felt that it is still far too close to areas frequented by recreational watercraft.
The series of large cages that would make up the aquaculture do leave room for a boat to pass over them. However, county Director of Development Review and Permitting Ed Tudor informed the commission that only about two feet of water would separate boats from the cages, meaning larger boats with deeper draws would be in trouble. Additionally, while the aquaculture would need to be marked, several commissioners commented on the ease with which markings can be lost, destroyed or missed on the water.
The potential for interference with boating did not set well with the commission.
“Our waters are for navigation for everybody,” said Commissioner Madison Bunting.
Commissioner Virgil Shockley agreed, saying, “This is not the right place. [But] there is a place for this.”
Church also chimed in, reiterating the number of calls he has been receiving since the public information session on July 10.
“Ninety-eight percent of the calls I received were very much opposed to even the new location,” he said.
Representing West Ocean City, Berlin and the South Point neighborhood, Church stressed that people in the area don’t want an aquaculture close enough that it could impact boating.
“I just think it’s a terrible location,” he said.
The county isn’t alone in opposing the project. State Senator Jim Mathias (D-38B), whose jurisdiction enfolds South Point, wrote a letter to DNR immediately following the public information session re-stating his continued opposition to the aquaculture. According to Mathias, South Point residents are against Marsh’s proposal because of expected violations “based on safety, the residential integrity of their community, and most importantly, quiet enjoyment of their home.”
Now that the public information session has passed, Tudor told the commission that the next likely step will be an actual public hearing, where government representatives and citizens will be able to voice their concerns.
Church asked and received unanimous support for a new letter to be drafted by the commission re-stating its own continued opposition to be sent to DNR.