County To Revisit Shoreline Commission’s Future

BERLIN – In spite of last month’s decision not to abolish the Shoreline Commission, county leaders have decided to reconsider the issue.

At the request of Commissioner Chip Bertino, the Worcester County Commissioners have agreed to consider legislation that would eliminate the Shoreline Commission at a Sept. 1 meeting. Bertino, who was among the majority when the 4-3 vote not to abolish the commission took place July 21, said he wanted the question brought up again.

“I regret that I did not have the information I now have when I voted July 21,” Bertino said. “Although I realize my request will please some and upset others, it is my opinion that reconsideration of this issue is in the best interest of property owners.”

The commissioners first discussed the idea of eliminating the Shoreline Commission at the recommendation of county staff in May. Bob Mitchell, the county’s head of environmental programs, said getting rid of the commission would streamline the building process and save money. He explained that when the commission was first created in 1972, there were few laws governing shoreline construction. Now, however, there are numerous regulations and a variety of officials overseeing the process. He said that his employees, who already reviewed each shoreline construction proposal, could take over the Shoreline Commission’s role.

On Tuesday, Bertino said he’d spent the weeks following last month’s decision not to follow staff’s recommendation looking into the issue. He spoke to property owners who have had to apply to the commission to build on their coastal properties as well as to the county employees who worked with the commission.

“As a result of this research, I’ve determined the cost borne by county property owners during the process is significant,” he said.

According to Bertino, property owners looking to build along local waterways often face a $150 shoreline construction permit fee, a $250 Shoreline Commission application fee and a $750 state permit fee. Residents of Ocean Pines have additional fees charged by the homeowners association.

Bertino pointed out that many applicants hired attorneys and consultants to help them through the process, which only added to the expense.

“Based on the findings of my research, I’ve determined the abolishment of the Shoreline Commission would remove a layer of government, save property owners a significant amount of money and provide for a more efficient and timely process for applicants interested in making improvements to their shoreline properties,” he said.

Commissioner Bud Church said he’d been asked by Commissioner Merrill Lockfaw, who was not present at the meeting, to see if reconsideration of the issue could be tabled until he was present.

“He has concerns,” Church said.

The commissioners agreed to bring the matter back up during a special legislative session Sept. 1.