Green Changes Put Coastal Bays Under ‘Bigger Spotlight’

OCEAN CITY – Despite a number of significant changes and perceived shakeups in the environmental community in recent months, there is a growing confidence that advocacy for natural resources and local watersheds is on the rise.

Dave Wilson left his post at the Maryland Coastal Bays Program in recent months after 18 years with the non-profit organization focused on protecting and conserving the five coastal bays behind Ocean City and Assateague Island.

Yet, despite his departure, he feels the environment community and the Maryland Coastal Bays Program is still quite strong and moving in a positive direction.

“We had grown to a point as an organization where I felt like I was more of an administrator than doing the things to protect the environment in the field that I am so passionate about,” said Wilson, “but even though I’m in the private sector now, I feel like the environmental community is in very good shape and starting to gain some good momentum.”

Wilson and Jim Rapp, another well- known environmental advocate in the region, started Conservation Community Consulting and are doing a number of projects with the state’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the National Audobon Society in Maryland that focuses on the protection of birds.

“The birding community is huge but there isn’t a lot of advocacy right now,” said Wilson. “One of the things we are doing is working on mapping and identifying the Important Bird Areas (IBA’s) in Maryland, which by the way, there are 43 of them statewide, including four here in Worcester County.”

Wilson believes his new role will allow him and Rapp to be much more hands on and drum up support from citizens on a “micro” level, which is much different than his role with the Maryland Coastal Bays Program, where he felt he was focused on the “macro” state and federal government entities.

“It’s very exciting and in a way, it’s very freeing to be on my own,” said Wilson. “Mow I think we can get out in front of people and spark up conversations about things like land conservation, over-development and planning and zoning issues, and push to have a real conversation about what we are going to do about the poultry litter problem we have on the shore.”

Yet, according to Sandi Smith at the Maryland Coastal Bays Program, the vacancy created by Wilson’s departure will likely be filled soon.

“We are moving forward at 90 mph like always,” said Smith. “We don’t know who the candidate is, but we believe the board is in contract negotiations with a finalist for the post as we speak.”

Smith pointed to what she called an “overwhelming response” to the job opening and the “great job” done by Interim Director Dr. Roman Jesien as two factors in the position still being technically open.

“We recently finished our Comprehensive Conservation Management Plan (CCMP), and we have been growing our Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) by leaps and bounds,” said Smith.

The Coastal Bays have never received a water quality rating higher than a C+ and Smith says the CCMP outlines goals and strategies until 2025 to make it cleaner.

Another forthcoming change of note is at the DNR where Dave Blazer, a 30-year environmental advocate, will become the new Director of Fisheries.

Blazer has worked with the Maryland Coastal Bays Program, The Chesapeake Bay Commission, and most recently, the Maryland Port Authority, where he oversaw the dredge spoils project as deputy director of harbor development.

“The common thread throughout [Blazer’s’] career is his demonstrated ability to bring a range of diverse stakeholders together for a common goal,” said DNR Secretary Mark Belton. “His environmental management and policy experience, and firsthand knowledge of the department will serve the state and its natural resources well.”

This Monday will begin Blazer’s second stint with DNR after working for the organization from 1990-1998.

Assateague Coastkeeper Kathy Phillips believes Glazer’s appointment to DNR is a big deal for the local environmental community.

“It’s a real positive,” said Phillips, “and so is Dave Wilson going out there and taking his experience into the private sector. We are seeing a bigger spotlight on the Maryland Coastal Bays than we ever have before. … We have our challenges, and our problems here on the shore, but I think we are definitely headed in a positive direction.”

Phillips is hoping Ocean City will be one of the first municipalities in the Mid-Atlantic region to join dozens of other coastal communities up and down the Eastern Seaboard that have drafted resolutions against offshore oil drilling.

“These other municipalities on the East Coast know that opposing this is a no-brainer,” said Phillips. “It’s bad for our fisheries, our billfish, our oceans and our entire way of life here. If Ocean City stands up and says no, I think other municipalities in the region will follow suit.”

About The Author: Bryan Russo

Bryan Russo returned to The Dispatch in 2015 to serve as News Editor after working as a staff writer from 2007-2010 covering the Ocean City news beat. In between, Russo worked as the Coastal Reporter for NPR-member station WAMU 88.5FM in Washington DC and WRAU 88.3 FM on the Delmarva Peninsula. He was the host of a weekly multi-award winning public affairs show “Coastal Connection.” During his five years in public radio, Russo’s work won 19 Associated Press Awards and 2 Edward R. Murrow Awards and was heard on various national programs like NPR’s All Things Considered, Morning Edition, APM’s Marketplace and the BBC. Russo also worked for the Associated Press (Philadelphia Bureau) covering the NHL and the NBA and is a critically acclaimed singer/songwriter and composer.