OCEAN CITY – During a boat tour of the Maryland coastal bays on Tuesday, Governor Martin O’Malley was able to see the watershed first-hand and gain a better understanding of the efforts being undertaken to improve all facets of it.
Joining O’Malley on the tour were Maryland Department of Natural Resources Secretary John Griffin, Planning Chair Richard Hall, Agriculture Secretary Roger Richardson and Environment Secretary Shari Wilson along with local elected officials and members of the Maryland Coastal Bays Program.
The issues highlighting the tour included the region’s economic importance and the problems and issues that the bay struggles with.
“Maryland’s Coastal Bays are a vital economic, recreational and natural resource for our state,” said O’Malley. “However, as is the case in the Chesapeake Bay, the very waters that attract so many people to Maryland are threatened by the human development and pollution. Safeguarding habitats for endangered species, protecting waterways from runoff and pollution, encouraging the use of living shorelines – these are things we can and must do to preserve the beauty and grace of this watershed."
The coastal bays, often referred to as the “forgotten bays” due to the attention usually given to the Chesapeake Bays, include the Assawoman, Isle of Wight, Sinepuxent, Chincoteague and Newport bays.
Dave Blazer, director of the Maryland Coastal Bays Program, addressed the “forgotten bays” label by saying that the coastal bays are no longer “forgotten” because the efforts over the past few years to protect and restore the bays have brought the coastal bays into the spotlight.
“I think there’s a lot of positive things and a lot of successes going on,” Blazer said.
With local officials present, Blazer applauded the county on their contributing efforts to the bays.
“We need to figure out how to keep this water clean,” Blazer stressed.
The health of the coastal bays have been constant issue over the past few years, sparking discussion over restoration and preservation of the area.
Although the first monitoring programs began in the mid-1980s, the bays really began receiving attention in 1996, when the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) adopted the bays into the EPA’s National Estuary Program, recognizing the bays as estuaries. Since that time, the Maryland Coastal Bays Program has received annual funding from the EPA.
Involvement from the state became strong in 1999 when the state gave money to Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to add to the bay-monitoring program.
In 2004, the first ever-comprehensive assessment of the bays was put together, giving the Maryland Coastal Bays Program new information on the status and trends of the bay.
Today the main goal of the Maryland Coastal Bays Program is to work to identify and implement actions that will protect and restore the bays. These actions, which include development, were addressed in Tuesday’s coastal bays boat tour.
Sandy Coyman, Worcester County Director of Comprehensive Planning, addressed the development occurring in the county.
“Worcester County really is the poster child for Smart Growth,” he said.
Smart Growth refers to development plans that aim to take an already built environment and revitalize it by building around already developed areas. One of the goals of Smart Growth is to avoid damages and wastefulness to the environment.
According to Coyman, there are good places and bad places to develop and as a county officials must determine which areas are most appropriate to develop on and then use that as a countywide basis.
O’Malley added his own thoughts after the presentation, agreeing that it’s critical to “preserve the beauty of this area.”
O’Malley feels the county must look at how to grow and make effective development decisions from there.
“We need to examine how we make choices that allow us to grow in a sustainable way,” he said, reinforcing that the efforts of everyone involved in the coastal bays have been effective for the most part.