2006 feels like the busiest year ever for the Friends of the Nanticoke River. From outreach and education to advocacy to collaboration, we worked to conserve the river we all treasure. Challenges have come from throughout the watershed and beyond. Last year, we made substantial gains in drawing awareness to the problems of growth and loss of natural lands. This awareness translated into a serious political discourse during the past election year, and now we face the task of bringing about real policy changes. As always, we are not alone in these efforts, and our allies are stronger and more diverse. Our environmental partners, such as the Wicomico Environmental Trust, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, and the Citizens for Planned Growth of Dorchester County, are beside us to help with resources and actions. Some very important developments of the past year have happened through our work with the Nanticoke Watershed Alliance (NWA). I am excited about what we have accomplished and about where we are going. Here are some details:
Green Infrastructure (G.I.) is a natural “life support system” - an interconnected network of protected land and water that supports native species, maintains natural ecological processes, sustains air and water resources and contributes to the health and quality of life for communities and people. It also refers to a process to facilitate land use planning that includes all stakeholders. Two years ago, John Groutt, then Vice President of the Friends, attended the Conservation Fund’s G.I. training course in WV, with support from the Friends. John conceived of the idea of hosting a GI conference in Salisbury. Working through the Nanticoke Watershed Alliance, with funding from the Chesapeake Bay Trust and the Community Foundation of the Lower Shore, a 2-day Green Infrastructure conference was held in January ’07 at Salisbury University. Attendance was outstanding, with participants representing environmental, planning, development, and government interests. This conference formally initiates a major G.I. initiative by the NWA and the Friends for the coming years. (See our web site for more.)
Growth and Land Preservation – Wicomico County In March/April, the Friends co-sponsored a 5-part lecture series on growth held at Salisbury University. We also joined several community partners, including the Salisbury Chamber of Commerce, the Visioning Committee, the Nanticoke Watershed Alliance, the Greater Salisbury Committee, and others in an appeal to the new Wicomico County executive for stronger growth management. In response to specific proposals, we urged Wicomico County to deny the request for a Planned Development District near Whiton which would have brought a small town of 2,000 people to one of the most pristine areas of the county (the proposal was rejected). We believe that growth should be carefully planned, based on adequate infrastructure, including roads, schools, fire and police protection, and water and wastewater facilities.
Growth and Land Preservation – Municipalities We have responded to several proposals for large development projects in Laurel, Hebron, and Vienna. Vienna’s plans for growth include the Critical Area, and we conveyed our desire to see them direct their growth to protect both sensitive land areas and the Nanticoke River. In contrast to Vienna, which has planned carefully for a relatively modest increase in population, Hebron has drafted a revision of its comprehensive plan that, together with their recent annexation of 400 acres, would lead to considerable loss of productive farmland to high density residential and commercial development. We are especially concerned about the lack of attention to infrastructure in this plan, and we have asked the town reconsider, and to assess the water and sewer resources that would be required. Hebron now discharges its wastewater into Rewastico Creek (its treatment system is near capacity) and this input level has seriously degraded the creek. We believe this vision for Hebron is both ill-advised and counter to the wishes of most residents in the area. In addition, it is directly in opposition to the Wicomico County Comprehensive Plan. We also opposed the recent annexation by Laurel of land for the Discovery Project, because of the impacts of this project on Broad Creek, a key part of the Nanticoke Watershed.
The Friends joined with several groups in hosting a NWA-sponsored Wicomico County candidates’ forum before the fall election. The forum was extremely well-attended and participants were impressed at the level of real discussion on issues pertaining to growth in the county. We are looking forward to working with the new council and administrator.
Blackwater Resorts Development
The Friends lobbied hard against approval of this proposal to convert 1,080 acres of productive farmland into a 3200-unit residential development bordering the Blackwater River, because of its potential impacts on the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge and in turn, the Nanticoke River. Following a huge outcry, the Critical Area Commission denied the developers’ growth allocation request. Maryland’s Program Open Space has now arranged for the purchase of 70% of the land for permanent protection.
Wicomico County Comprehensive Plan
In response to the recommendation included in Wicomico County’s Land Preservation Plan (adopted in early 2006), the County Council has appointed a committee to address rural areas planning as it prepares to develop its new Comprehensive Plan. The President of the Friends is the only member of the environmental community on this committee. Two key issues to be addressed are shared wastewater treatment facilities and the agricultural district cluster provision, which permits 1 house per 3 acres. Both of these encourage sprawl development. We will work hard to be sure the new plan protects forests and farmland, as well as the Green Infrastructure of the county.
This year, the Wicomico Creekwatchers’ Program expanded to include Rewastico Creek, led by Friends’ member Virginia Coggeshall. The Rewastico Creek data have already been used in our appeal to Hebron re: its draft Comprehensive Plan, and we will continue to push for protection of this fragile and degraded tributary of the Nanticoke River. This citizen effort is invaluable. Next year, there will also be a river-wide Creekwatchers' Program, coordinated by the NWA. Data collected by citizen volunteers is analyzed by local universities, and is used to advocate for river protection and restoration. Please let us know if you can volunteer!
Woodland Ferry Tower
The proposed telecommunications tower near Woodland Ferry was rejected by Sussex County after strenuous citizen opposition. The Friends submitted a letter objecting to this site because of its historic and picturesque nature and because of potential environmental impacts.
Nanticoke River Dredging and Boat Traffic
The Friends were represented at a public meeting in July on plans for dredging the upper Nanticoke near Seaford. We had previously expressed concerns about speed limit enforcement and barge navigation. The Coast Guard responded well to citizen concerns and has set up an open and careful process, it appears. We continue to monitor it.
Edwin Lewis Marsh Hunting Complex
No newsletter would be complete, it seems, without a note on this case! After losing his 2nd appeal to the Wicomico County Circuit Court in April ’05, Mr. Lewis appealed (again) to the MD Court of Special Appeals. Although a ruling was supposed to be issued by mid-March, it was January ’07 when the court finally issued a denial of the appeal. We fully expect this to travel on to the Court of Appeals (Maryland’s Supreme Court), and we will keep you posted.
An important initiative this year has been to increase participation in our Steering Committee. This is happening, but we still need you! Please consider attending our meetings, where you can learn more about what we are doing and share your perspectives and ideas. The Steering Committee meets monthly; please come and add your voice and your help.
Film Festival – save the dates!
A series of films and guest speakers will highlight the effects of global warming on the Eastern Shore - every Thursday evening in March, Salisbury University. See enclosed flyer for details.