County Says Pond Work More Critical Than Ownership Issue

SNOW HILL — Although unanimously objecting to the state assessment that Worcester County owns land surrounding the Bishopville Pond, the County Commissioners agreed this week not to dispute it for risk of interfering with a Maryland Coastal Bays Program (MCBP) project.

“We are now in so far as ‘property owners, land owners’ that we probably need to stay in,” advised County Attorney Sonny Bloxom.

Bloxom explained to the commission the state has long considered Worcester the owner of land around the Bishopville Pond, despite the fact that the county has traditionally felt to the contrary.

“The county position has always been that we’re not the owner … but the state thinks we own it,” he said.

Though this has been a disagreement for years, Bloxom noted that the county signed the permit application for the Bishopville Pond project, which will include removal of an on-site dam and creation of a stream channel and wetland habitat, as owners in 2010.

Commissioner Madison Bunting, who wasn’t part of the body in 2010, felt that signing that application was a mistake and one that the county should address now before it continues.

“Why are we the owners of the property?” he asked.

Bunting saw no connection between Bishopville Pond and Worcester and expressed the worry that ratifying the 2010 application that listed the county as owner could lead to trouble down the road.

“It keeps referencing that the county has something to do with this property,” he said.

Though he acknowledged the concern, Bloxom stuck by his point that Worcester is already far enough into the process that it might not be a good idea to pull out now. He also said that being listed as the owner of the property shouldn’t cause any trouble for Worcester.

“I don’t think it’s going to hurt us in anyway … I don’t see any kickback against the county in moving forward,” Bloxom said.

Bunting still had reservations, including some over the actual scope of the project to remove the dam and install the stream, which he pointed out the county has nothing to do with.

“We’re not building, we’re not doing the bidding, we’re not doing anything,” he said.

Another concern mentioned by Bunting is the potential effect removing the dam could have on nearby property owners.

“They should be notified if this project impacts their property,” he said.

But, according to MCBP representative Dr. Roman Jesien, the project isn’t expected to change the pond, at least from the perspective of adjacent land owners.

“The critical area line will not change … the footprint of the pond will not change,” he promised.

Jesien admitted that who owns the pond has been a “sticking point” for MCBP, but one that, at the end of the day, doesn’t matter for the project.

MCBP Executive Director Dave Wilson agreed, saying, “We don’t have a dog in the fight in terms of who owns or doesn’t own the pond.”

As long as that owner, be the county or state, was amicable to the dam removal and creation of a stream, the MCBP is happy, said Wilson.

The commissioners decided to follow Bloxom’s advice and keep their name on the application as owners. The next step in the process will be a joint Department of Natural Resources and Maryland Department of the Environment public meeting to review the project and receive input from interested citizens.

The commission voted unanimously to send a letter of support to the meeting, which is scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 2.