OCEAN CITY – A bill introduced in the General Assembly which would have transferred ownership of the temporary islands created in the coastal bays behind Ocean City to the state for conservation purposes died this week when it failed to make it out of a House committee.
House Bill 54, introduced at the request of the chair of the House Environment and Transportation Committee, would have transferred authority of any lands formed in coastal bays in Worcester County by depositing material dredg-ed from the Ocean City Inlet or other navigational channels in and around the resort area from the state’s Department of the Environment (MDE) to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
When the federal Army Corps of Engineers dredged the navigation channels around the resort a few years back, roughly 400,000 cubic yards of sand and dredged material was dedicated to restoring some of the islands in the coastal bays that hadn’t been seen on charts since the 1930s, including a roughly four-acre spit now known as Tern Island.
Restoring the islands accomplished the dual goals of finding a home for the tons of material dredged from the Inlet and the navigation channels, for example, while creating crucial habitat for endangered colonial nesting birds in the coastal bays. However, the relatively new islands became no man’s lands of sorts with access and use often called into question.
A conflict of interest quickly arose at Tern Island, for example, when hundreds of recreational boaters flocked to the newly created sandy spit, drop-ped anchor and waded ashore. At one point, Tern Island’s legacy as a retreat for legions of weekend recreational boaters was solidified when an American flag was installed on it.
House Bill 54 would have codified the authority of the DNR to own and maintain the sensitive islands, essentially cutting them off from use by the boating public. However, the legislation died this week when it failed to make it out of the very House committee in which it had been introduced.
“Any island created or formed within he confines of Sinepuxent, Isle of Wight or Chincoteague Bay by the dumping or depositing of excavated material from dredging or any other artificial means employed by the state or the United States or both during the construction or maintenance of the Ocean City Inlet and the channel in the bays are natural resources of the state and title to them is retained for the use of the department,” the bill read.
However, a clause in the bill would have left the sandy islands in the coastal bays available to some segments of the public on a limited basis.
“The department may use the land for conservation purposes in the manner and under the regulations the department deems in the best interest of the state,” the bill read. “However, any person who may lawfully hunt or fish in Worcester County may hunt of fish on these lands during the open season for hunting or fishing.”
According to the bill’s fiscal and policy note, in the 1930s, 29 islands were created by the deposit of dredge spoils collected during the excavation of the navigation channels in and around the newly created Inlet, but by 1964, only 10 of those islands remained. At one point, the General Assembly designat-ed the collection of islands for wildlife protection by creating the Sinepuxent Wildlife Management Area (WMA) un-der the purview of the MDE.
House Bill 54, which died in a committee vote on Monday, would have reverted the ownership of the remaining sandy islands in the coastal bays to the DNR. For its part, the DNR maintains it currently owns and manages the remaining islands in the coastal bays, but the failure of House Bill 54 could call that ownership into question and reopen the issue of recreational access to them by the boating public.