Monday, March 30, 2009

Pay Attention to Proposed Zoning Regulations

Planning and zoning are the key factors in determining the future economic and environmental health of towns and counties.
That’s why Worcester County citizens should carefully study the proposed county zoning regulations and maps before the public hearings later this spring. A key question is whether the new zoning matches the Worcester County Comprehensive Plan which the county commissioners, citizens, and planners created together by consensus and approved in 2006.
The code and maps were just released on the county’s website ( two weeks ago. Aside from matching up the comprehensive plan map with the new zoning map, residents should be mindful of some of the core principles adopted by the county in the comprehensive plan: Do the new growth areas avoid forests and wetlands? Are these areas away from floodplains? Is there a Transfer of Development Rights program to help eliminate commercial strip zoning and large lot estate zoning? Is there a provision for conservation subdivision designs in the plan, and do the new growth areas allow for the county to meet its TMDLs, the maximum allowable nutrient load permitted for certain water bodies?
There are also new provisions in the plan that allow for more lots, if clustered, on agriculturally zoned land, and a new agricultural zoning district (A-2) that consumes more than 3,000 acres of land along MD 589, Sinepuxent Road, MD 611, Mary Road east of Berlin and around Stockton. The more permissive A-2 district would allow for transferring lots from numerous parcels to make one larger development and the district would permit a variety of other uses like correctional facilities, effluent storage, race tracks, hospitals, water craft storage/construction yards, farm labor camps, and veterinary facilities.
Some of the areas upzoned for residential subdivisions include parts of South Point, Libertytown Road west of Berlin, MD 611 just south of Assateague Road, Gumpoint Road, and most of Shingle Landing and Bishopville prongs. A large area next to Stephen Decatur Middle School is also proposed for big box commercial development.
Along the shore of Assawoman Bay across from Ocean City much of the larger lot zoning has been rezoned for more conservation purposes as has parts of Assateague Road.
No doubt county planners are tasked with tough decisions on thousands of parcels. Few brews are more toxic than those that bring together politics, property owners, and planning, and few souls are braver than those who have to navigate them.
But however much politics and individual property owners come into play, when it comes to a vote on the zoning regulations in June, the Worcester County Commissioners must stick to the comprehensive plan and its core planning principles for the common good and future health of their community.
Residents can peruse those regulations and maps April 20-23 from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. and April 24 from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. on the 3rd floor of the Worcester County Government Center in Snow Hill. The county will also hold workshops April 27 from 5-8 p.m. at the Rec. Center on Public Landing Road and April 29 at the same time at Stephen Decatur High School.
Worcester County’s Comprehensive Plan won numerous awards and was held up as a model for counties to emulate nationwide. Citizens should be sure the zoning regulations do the same.

Monday, March 23, 2009

A Special Thanks to our Volunteers

At the risk of appearing too self-congratulatory, we at the Coastal Bays Program are truly thrilled about our win for best overall float in last Saturday’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Sure, it’s a bit silly that a group of adults could be positively exuberant over a parade float, but frankly such recognition means a lot to those of us who work in a non-profit sector as well as for the volunteers who help the cause.
A lot of time and effort went into our float, and we couldn’t have done it without the help of the many volunteers who donated items, services, money and energy of time to the project. A great group worked long hours to make our very first entry into the annual Delmarva Irish-American Club 29th St. Patrick’s Day Parade on March 14 a success.
We started out with big plans, but quickly realized that not one of the staff or volunteers had ever worked on a parade float before, and the task seemed a bit daunting. Somehow what we envisioned was realized, and after hours of sawing, painting, nailing, gluing, stapling and whatever else needed to be done, we pulled it off. The result was a family oriented ocean and bay themed float, complete with larger than life size homemade starfish, horseshoe crab and octopus costumes.
The staff did our share, of course. Programs Manager Kate Diffenderfer, who wholeheartedly coordinated the project, worked tirelessly and never complained, but we truly couldn’t have done it without the help of a dedicated group of volunteers. A special thank you is in order for our queen of the bays, Ocean City’s own Vera McCullough, who was radiant in her homemade royal dress, seashell crown and clamshell “throne”. Mike Brian of Ocean City’s Surfrider Foundation, Morgan Kaumeyer of AmeriCorp, and Denny Sharp and Jamie Montgomery of High Tide Marine and Su Lane of Sun Signs – you really came through for us. Just as important to our success were Ryan Murphy and Shane Murphy of Go Green Painting & Home Improvements, Victor Bunting, Brian Tinkler, Karen Lukacs, Phyllis Brian, Christopher Johnson, Krystal Wilson, Ben Cheseldine, Morgan Squicciarini, Carolyn Cummins, Genie Blake, Maria Valdez, Malakhi Lucas, Keota Silaphone, Heather, Harley, Asher and Lucas Layton and little Ella Samis, our toddler mermaid.
A nonprofit organization cannot succeed without a strong core of volunteers, particularly in tough economic times. Those who selflessly commit their time and resources should be recognized because they are an integral part of the fuel that powers our engine and helps us keep going. It’s not a Nobel Prize, of course, but in some small way this recognition can serve as a reminder to residents and visitors that the Coastal Bays Program is always here, working to keep our bays healthy.
The trophy is proudly displayed it in our front office. It reminds us that together with our volunteers we can take on the next new project and make it a success.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

St. Patrick's Day Float Award

From L - R

MCBP Technical Coorinator Carol Cain, Executive Director Dave Wilson, Programs Manager Kate Diffenderfer and Outreach Coordinator Anita Ferguson.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Coastal Bays Float Wins Best in Show!

The Maryland Coastal Bays Program won Best in Show for its Under the Sea themed float in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Ocean City on Saturday. The float was the first ever entrance in the parade from the Coastal Bays Program.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Assateague Coastal Trust Coast Kids Activity

Coast Kids will learn about bird watching at the Ward Museum Sunday, March 15th 2009 from 1 PM to 3 PM.

The event will start with a quick tour through the Ward Museum, and then go outside to identify the birds living around the pond. Lastly participants will hear a story about the physical and behavioral adaptations of birds to the environment, and create our own birds in a craft project.

There is no limit to the number of spaces available. Please sign up by calling the Assateague Coastal Trust office at 410-629-1538. The event is free for members and their parents. Non-members pay $5.00 per child.

The Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art is located in Salisbury. Turn South from Rt. 50 onto Beaglin Park Drive. Proceed 1.2 miles to S. Schumaker Drive and turn left (at the traffic signal just before Parkside High School). The Ward Museum is located on the left. Meet in the lobby.


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Conserve While You Serve Trade Expo

The Maryland Coastal Bays Program would like to applaud the Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association, which has chosen to not only embrace but also encourage environmental responsibility by focusing on conservation at its annual trade expo last weekend.
Conserve While You Serve was the theme at the 35th Spring Trade Expo, an annual event designed exclusively for the hospitality industry. This year the event featured innovative goods and services, from solar energy to biodegradable flatware.
The OCHMRA realizes that in today’s challenging economic climate, businesses owners must use every tool available to maximize value for expenses and return on investment. And while going green to save some green is not a new concept, this event took that idea a step further with Green is the New Gold, a conservation-minded training and educational clinic, presented by EcoVentures International, Women Entrepreneurs of Baltimore, and Delmarva Low Impact Tourism Experience. Additional funding came from the Maryland and Delaware USDA Rural Development Office with additional support from Delaware Sea Grant and University of Maryland Eastern Shore.
Experts from a variety of hospitality sectors provided information and insight on what going green means in the hospitality world. The National Restaurant Association and the American Hotel and Lodging Association discussed conservation efforts adopted by restaurants and hotels around the nation and offered tools and resources for small and large businesses to save money but at the same time have positive environmental impacts.
Jim Rapp of Delmarva Low Impact Tourism Experiences, along with Helen Arthur of Boardwalk Hotel Group and Worcester County Tourism Director Lisa Challenger, partnered to discuss how to increase visitation through eco tourism – a concept that promotes recycling, energy efficiency, water conservation and the creation of economic opportunities for local communities.
Other issues included the benefits of solar energy; as well rebates, incentives and financial strategies available for those want to use a solar power system. Business owners who want to learn how to clean with non-toxic chemicals learned about low cost, common sense methods that can do the job as well as harmful chemical cleaners.
By now most in the hospitality industry are already aware of energy saving measures, such as using fluorescent bulbs, ceiling fans, linen cards and lights out cards, as well as how low flow showerheads and toilets can conserve water. It’s a no-brainer that using less energy and water will save on utility bills.
But with the Conserve While You Serve concept, the OCHMRA has recognized that going green also means responding to conservation-minded patrons who are actively looking for environmentally sensitive hotels and restaurants. Tapping into this growing group of consumers is good for business, yes, but it’s also good for the planet. And that serves all of us.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Clash of the Populations!

This somewhat dramatic name sounds a bit like the title of a 1950s science fiction movie. The title in full, Clash of the Populations – Emerging Challenges for Coastal Lagoons, is actually the name of a conference taking place in Ocean City this week. The subject of looming problems with lagoons may not sound as dramatic as a sci-fi thriller, but lagoon health is a serious issue.
Managing these vulnerable waterways will be the main focus for members of the Atlantic Estuarine Research Society (AERS), comprised of students, scientists, managers and educators from Maryland, North Carolina, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Washington, DC. The group this week will take an in-depth look at the problems facing coastal lagoons with a goal to form science-based solutions.
The Clash o f the Populations conference is hosted by the Maryland Coastal Bays Program Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee. The waters behind Assateague and Ocean City are coastal lagoons, which have their own set of circumstances that make them especially vulnerable to human impact, says Dr. Roman Jesien, staff scientist with the MCBP. Coastal lagoons typically have small watersheds, with small rivers and creeks, with the chief freshwater input coming through rain and groundwater. Flushing is low, so as a result, what goes into the bays stays in the bays.
Since there are tremendous pressures from living and playing in the watershed, conflicts can arise between humans and animal and plant populations that inhabit these lagoons. These are highly productive areas that contribute to the overall productivity of coastal waters by supporting a variety of habitats, including salt marshes and seagrasses. They also provide essential habitat for many fish and shellfish species. Lagoons can be found throughout the world and represent nearly 13 percent of the shoreline. On the Atlantic coast, salt marshes are one of the most prevalent habitats in lagoons and are one of the most productive natural plant communities in the world, so managing them well is vital.
The AERS conference includes a trip to the north end of Assateague Island National Seashore as well as visit to two habitat restoration projects in the Isle of Wight Management Area. The first Isle of Wight location is an area of shoreline that at one time housed deteriorating bulkhead but has been replaced with 10 acres of tidal marsh and is now a county park, while the second is a site with ongoing marsh restoration.
The Maryland Coastal Bays Program Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee was established to provide advice and guidance to research, data management, and sampling and monitoring efforts that affect the scientific adequacy of program activities. The committee is also responsible for suggesting specific scientific activities that will help meet program objectives, as well as conduct peer review of studies and reports on the status and trends in the estuary.

AERS was formed to discuss problems and explore solutions on issues pertaining to estuarine and coastal environments and policies with the common goal of encouraging environmental interest and public awareness. The group is one of seven affiliated societies centered along the East, Gulf and West coasts of North America. The seven societies, independently operated, collaborate with the national Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation to sponsor biennial conferences on topics of national and international interest and to produce a highly regarded quarterly journal, Estuaries and Coasts.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Stop Using Plastic Bags!

The comedienne Lily Tomlin once joked that there is so much plastic in our lives that vinyl leopard skin is becoming an endangered synthetic.
A funny joke, yes, but the point is well taken. Just consider for example all the plastic shopping bags now used routinely at grocery stores, pharmacies, and practically anywhere purchases are made. These sturdy polyethylene bags do a good job toting our apples or frozen dinners to the car, but they are also endangering our marine environment.
Researchers say more than 80 percent of debris found in the middle of the ocean initially came from the land after being blown off of garbage trucks or out of landfills, spilled from railroad shipping containers or washed down storm drains. Plastic is a durable, buoyant and nearly indestructible material and can remain in the sea for hundreds of years, breaking up into tiny particles that often find their way inside plankton, the basis of the marine food chain
The plastics problem is so severe that a section of the Pacific Ocean twice the size of the continental United States has been dubbed the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. This enormous floating island of flotsam contains 100 million tons of plastic particles. These particles end up in the stomachs of marine birds and mammals killing millions each year.
Plastic shopping bags that once held a carton of eggs and pound of butter end up clogging gullets of sea turtles that mistake them for jellyfish, but replacing these bags with cloth totes is simple and inexpensive. Reusable and washable, they are available for about a buck in most places we routinely shop.
Still, what should we do with the bags we already have at home? The answer is the oft repeated mantra – renew, reuse and recycle. Many grocery stores provide a recycling container right outside the store where you can drop your old bags, or simply use them again the next time you shop. At home use them as small trashcan liners, as a pooper scooper on walks with the dog, or as a lunch tote, although probably not in that order.
There are actually creative and decorative ways to use these bags. Because the polyethylene material is quite durable they can be cut into strips and tied together to make a plastic yarn. This yarn can then be used to knit area rugs, braided dog leashes, even purses and hats.
Eliminating these bags from our lives may seem like a small step toward mitigating the effects of plastic on our environment. But such small steps can do a lot to prevent another massive plastic garbage patch from forming in our oceans. And that’s no joke.