2005 was a year when I felt especially proud to be associated with the Friends of the Nanticoke River. Our strong conservation efforts are finally beginning to make a difference in the political landscape. People throughout the watershed are voicing their concerns about loss of forests, farmland, and natural resources, and about the harmful effects of overdevelopment. New conservation voices are speaking out, and more people recognize that development of watershed areas is directly tied to water quality and the health of wildlife populations in and around the river.
In addition to advocacy for the river and its surrounding lands, we have continued working with partners and through the Nanticoke Watershed Alliance on the Vienna Shad Festival, hosting river cleanups, and co-hosting public information events, among many endeavors. Here are some details of our activities in 2005:
Edwin Lewis Hunting Complex
Will this story ever end? Mr. Lewis, who constructed a hunting lodge/cabin complex in a marsh near Rewastico Creek without any permits, was denied in appeal again by the Wicomico County Circuit Court in April ’05. He has now appealed to the MD Court of Special Appeals, which also denied him the last time, with arguments being held on January 5, 2006. The court has 60 days to issue its ruling.
Wicomico County Voter Survey
The results of the Wicomico County Voter Survey have generated considerable reflection and discussion among residents and policymakers, with Wicomico County taking steps to limit growth by placing a moratorium on approval of annexations and by considering such measures as an Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance. The Friends will continue to press the County to take definite actions to stop sprawl development. We are working with the Nanticoke Watershed Alliance on expanding this endeavor to Dorchester and Sussex Counties for the next step.
Wicomico County Land Preservation Plan
The Friends submitted detailed recommendations and comments on Wicomico County’s draft Land Preservation Plan. A Public Hearing is coming up soon and support for strong land preservation measures is vitally needed.
Woodland Ferry Tower
The Friends submitted a letter of opposition to Sussex County regarding a proposed telecommunications tower near Woodland Ferry. This historic and picturesque site would be affected both visually and environmentally, as such towers pose documented risks to wildlife.
We continue to monitor and to respond to problems surrounding the Blades Marina. Numerous complaints about user conflicts, harassment of fishermen within the marina, and problems with erosion caused by high boat speeds were conveyed to the DE Dept. of Natural Resources and Environmental Control in December.
Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge
While most people may not think of Blackwater when they think of the Nanticoke River watershed, the two are directly connected through shared lands and shared wildlife. Indeed, the National Wildlife Refuge has now been redefined as part of a refuge complex called Chesapeake Marshlands. The Refuge manager, Glen Carowan, gave a presentation last summer to our steering committee on the Chesapeake Marshlands National Wildlife Refuge Complex draft Comprehensive Conservation Plan and Environmental Assessment. We submitted a review and comment letter in support of the plan option that gives priority to land and wildlife protection and to eradicating invasive species. This plan includes portions of western Wicomico County along the Nanticoke River and some of its tributaries, and we support this expansion of focus in management of the Chesapeake Marshlands complex.
In stark contrast to these efforts is the recent decision by Cambridge to annex 1,080 acres of productive farmland for a 3200-unit residential development bordering the Blackwater River, to be called, ironically, Blackwater Resort Communities. This project entails re-designating over 300 acres of Critical Area as Intensively Developed, and it runs counter to all efforts to preserve farming and to encourage “smart growth.” The Friends have joined the Blackwater Refuge and other groups in strongly opposing this plan.