County Shoreline Commission Not Abolished In Divided Vote

SNOW HILL – County officials were forced to rescind a bill that would have given oversight of shoreline construction to the board of zoning appeals after they decided not to abolish the longstanding Shoreline Commission in a split vote.

The Worcester County Commissioners on Tuesday voted unanimously to support a bill that gave the board of zoning appeals authority to consider appeals of decisions regarding construction along shorelines. Immediately after, a companion bill to abolish the Shoreline Commission failed — with just three commissioners voting in favor of it — forcing the board to rescind the previously approved bill. The decision came after several people spoke against eliminating the commission last month.

“I’m very happy the commissioners listened to us,” said J.L. Cropper, a member of the Shoreline Commission, in an interview Wednesday. “All the members of the Shoreline Commission felt it should stay intact. We felt it was a necessary service we did and not something that should be done away with.”

County staff proposed eliminating the commission as a way to streamline the permit process and save the county money. According to Bob Mitchell, the county’s head of environmental programs, there were few laws regulating shoreline construction — the installation of docks, boat lifts and the like — when the commission was created in 1972. Now, however, there are numerous agencies that have a say in what can be built on the water.

Mitchell said his staff was already researching each application that came to the Shoreline Commission and it would not be difficult for them to issue permits.

Cropper said that while it was true that other agencies now had oversight regarding what was built on local waterways, the Shoreline Commission played a key role in the process.

“We’re one step but we’re the most local step,” she said.

Cropper said the commission also provided owners of neighboring properties with a chance to share their concerns regarding potential construction. At the monthly meetings of the Shoreline Commission, citizens can have their questions answered and concerns heard about a certain projects.

“There have been times an applicant has desired something and just through talking back and forth we’re able to make a compromise that will work better for everybody involved.”

County commissioners were torn in their decision, but Chip Bertino, Merrill Lockfaw, Diana Purnell and Bud Church voted not to abolish the commission. Commissioners in favor were Jim Bunting, Joe Mitrecic and Ted Elder.

Bertino said it was a difficult decision but that he thought there was value in the commission.

“I like the fact that the transparency is there,” he said. “If neighboring property owners have a question they have a forum they can go to, to get information.”