Petition Started Over New Girdletree Boat Ramp Project

SNOW HILL — An overhaul of the Taylor Landing boat ramp will make the spot less favorable for crabbing, a fact that has upset some Girdletree residents and led to a petition effort.

The petition drive has included some rocky communications with the county. It’s unlikely that the petition will cause the project to stop, but the County Commissioners could go back after the initial construction to add a crabbing pier to Taylor Landing, assuming funding is available and the commissioners are in agreement on such an action.

Girdletree resident Mike Sponseller is leading the petition effort, which he said has already accumulated about 150 signatures. His petition calls into question the county’s decision to re-do the boat ramp with rip-rap, which is a wall made of chunks of stone.

“They are taking away any crabbing because they are installing rip-rap and not bulk head like was there prior,” Sponseller wrote in an email to The Dispatch. “The residents had signed the petition, 150 so far, to get Worcester County to remove the rip-rap and install bulk head like it was or install a crabbing pier.”

Rip-rap makes it nearly impossible to crab from the boat ramp, according to Sponseller, especially for the elderly or disabled. However, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) highly favors rip-rap in place of bulkheads for environmental reasons, according to County Commissioner Virgil Shockley, leaving the commissioners in a tight position.

“It doesn’t completely tie [our hands] but it ties them fairly well because where you have any wave action they don’t want you to replace [the boat ramp] …with bulkheading because it’s just going to wash out,” he said. “If you look at the ones that are being replaced now, that’s what you’ve got. We’re going back in and putting rip-rap down wherever there’s any kind of wave action at all.”

While DNR isn’t completely steering the county in their decisions with Taylor Landing, the state agency has left the commissioners in a tight spot. Stopping the project now that it’s underway would be difficult, he added, so the best option is to finish with the rip-rap and then take a look at what can be done after the fact to accommodate crabbers.

“You’re not going to get anything approved in the timeframe. You’re better off doing a Phase II and sending it up and basically saying we’ll go back in April and start again on Phase II of it or whatever you want to call it,” said Shockley.

Sponseller is skeptical, however, and is unhappy overall with the treatment from the county.

“We have contacted the County Commissioners about our complaints however none of them want to hear what we have to say. We have asked them for a meeting and till this day will not respond,” he wrote in the same email this week. “We the people of Girdletree just want to be heard on this and it is not right that the County Commissioners who voted to do this will not even hear us.”

It should be noted that since the email was sent Sponseller has met with the county, turned in his petition and a meeting has been discussed though not confirmed.

Additionally, Sponseller’s belief is that Girdletree is getting the short end of the stick when it comes to community projects while the county directs funds toward wealthier areas. He also claimed that, prior to turning in his petition this week, the commissioners basically ignored him.

The county disputes this. Though Sponseller is slightly outside of his district, Shockley was the commissioner to take point on the issue and make contact on behalf of the group. There was productive communication early on, according to Shockley, but things quickly broke down.

Shockley characterized Sponseller as combative in his dealings with the county to the point where it was impossible to have a reasonable dialog on the issue. Shockley also disagreed categorically with Sponseller’s claim that the county is improperly funneling more funding toward wealthier areas.

Sponseller has said that one of the main reasons for the petition was to push the county into coming down to Girdletree to explain the Taylor Landing’s situation with residents. Such a community meeting is likely within the next few weeks, Shockley confirmed.

Shockley said it was never the commission’s intent to blindside Girdletree with the boat ramp replacement and that the commission tried to be as transparent as possible, discussing the issue openly at meetings prior to construction.

However, while he felt the information was readily available, Shockley admitted it might have been a good idea to hold a meeting in the area prior to the start of the project. Still, Shockley pointed out that if the commissioners held a community meeting before getting underway with each of their public works improvement projects little would ever get done.

With the petition turned in, a community meeting likely and the addition of a crabbing pier in the future at least possible, Sponseller said he’s optimistic about seeing the matter resolved.

“We don’t want to fight with them, we don’t want to argue with them, we just want something safe and usable down here done,” he said.