Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Conservation Easement Walk on Friday

On the afternoon of November 6th, the Lower Shore Land Trust and the Maryland Coastal Bays Program will lead a short walking tour around a conservation easement property along Pitts Road. The property is owned by the Coastal Bays Program and the conservation easement is co-held by the Lower Shore Land Trust and the Maryland Environmental Trust.

Recently, wetland restoration work has been completed along Middle Branch, and the Land Trust and the Coastal Bays Program are excited to share this work with you. The habitat restoration work will enhance an already productive riparian corridor, while maintaining critical flood control functions. The Maryland Coastal Bays Program acquired this 79 acre conservation easement property, near Showell, in 2008. In addition to the habitat restoration work, the Coastal Bays Program has used the property for various educational trips, including previous Great Worcester Herp Search outings.

A conservation easement is a written agreement between a landowner and a conservation agency, or land trust, which ensures that a property will not be developed beyond an agreed upon limit. The land remains in private ownership while the Lower Shore Land Trust assures that the terms of the agreement are forever met. Easements are a tool for property owner to control the future use, appearance and character of the land. Landowners can continue to farm, harvest timber, and hunt, as well as reserve building rights for future use.

Contact the Lower Shore Land Trust to sign up for this field trip which will take place on Friday, November 6th from 2 – 4 PM.

The Maryland Coastal Bays Program and the Lower Shore Land Trust hope you will consider joining us for a fun and educational tour of a unique conservation easement property.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Rezoning Takes a Step Back

The Worcester County comprehensive rezoning process took a step backwards last week when the commissioners decided to overstep staff and planning commission recommendations and look at rezoning requests on a parcel-by-parcel basis.

While the majority of commissioners seemed to favor following proper procedure, the group conceded to the move after debate stalled on commercial zoning on MD 589 and higher density residential on MD 611 and South Point.

Good reasons exist to discuss these areas, but to re-open the entire rezoning process after professional planning staff and the Worcester County Planning Commission have strenuously reviewed the over 100 requests for zoning changes is without merit.

Comprehensive planning and zoning is about the long-term well-being of the community, not what’s most lucrative for individual property owners. For the past four years, the public and planning staff have taken great pains to make sure transportation, wildlife, bay health, and public safety were top priorities in the county’s comprehensive plan and rezoning.

The award-winning Worcester County Comprehensive Plan was written to keep new growth out of forests, wetlands, flood-prone areas, and around existing infrastructure. This protects the public, water quality, tourism, and keeps taxes low. Upzoning requests that do not adhere to the comprehensive plan or to these principles should be disregarded.

Elected officials should serve to do what’s best for their community, not certain individuals or other special interests. Randomly spot zoning individual parcels has nothing to do with the greater good. Arbitrary zoning decisions that abandon the notion of planning should be rigorously questioned. Moreover, any decision about changes on individual parcels should be subject to a hearing and further debate from all Worcester County citizens.

If certain commissioners have issues with zoning change requests that were denied, they should bring those to the fore. But going over ever request parcel by parcel has already been done ad nauseum and will take months of work sessions.

The dismantling of the Worcester County Comprehensive Planning Department earlier this year makes this latest maneuver all the more troubling. By now most know that residential development doesn’t pay for itself. Examples of the effects of unchecked development on taxes abound from Glenn Burnie to Wicomico County.

We are confident that the majority of commissioners will take an ethical stance on this issue and side with the planning commission, county staff, and the public which created the comprehensive plan that the zoning should mirror.

The silver lining on re-opening this debate could be that it will allow communities to address certain parcels that are not consistent with the comp plan, such as the ones zoned A-2 along MD611/Sinepuxent Rd., all of the estate zoning (most of which is in flood-prone areas and should be zoned for Resource Protection), the large proposed commercial site across from Stephen Decatur High School, Gumpoint Road, the expanded village district near Stockton, the commercial zoning both along US 50 and to the south and east on the MD 376/611 junction etc., etc.

Planning and zoning are the key factors in determining the future economic and environmental health of towns and counties.
The comprehensive plan and the zoning that follows it were created by citizens, property owners, and professional planners who worked hard to reach consensus.

But however much quick profits and individual property owners come into play, the Worcester County Commissioners have a moral and political obligation to stick to the core planning principles in the comprehensive rezoning for the common good and future health of their community.

Worcester County’s Comprehensive Plan won numerous awards and was held up as a model for counties to emulate nationwide. The commissioners should be sure the zoning regulations do the same.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Ayres Creek Project Stalled

A group of non-profit organizations, the town of Ocean City and Worcester County have a chance to transform an old, unused landfill into a recreational site, creating another great opportunity for residents and visitors to enjoy our beautiful natural resources.

The West Ocean City property is located along Lewis Rd. Although it is beyond town limits, the property is owned by the town of Ocean City. It was used as landfill from the 1950s until 1980, and in 2007 it was declared a safe area by state officials.

The proposed recreational project called the Ayers Creek Water Trail would be on the 37-acre site, which includes 450 feet of shoreline. The site would also have an entry gate, a parking area and a 120-foot long wooden walkway and could possibly become a kayak launch in the future. Work for the project would be paid for by a $47,000 State Highway Administration grant.

The idea originated from local kayaker Spencer Rowe, who worked with non-profit and government entities – the Coastal Bays Program, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, DLITE and Worcester County Tourism officials – interested in establishing local water trails with the hope that the site would develop into an interpretation program to educate tourists and local residents about the rich nature and heritage of our coastal bays. With the funding in place, all that remained was to get approval from the town.

Unfortunately, the Ocean City Council decided last week that due to liability concerns they will not sign off on the project, suggesting that either the Coastal Bays Program or Worcester County government be responsible for liability insurance.

In hundreds of municipalities throughout the country, local, state and county officials have united with citizens to turn brownfields into safe and productive parks and tourism attractions. These transformed landfills are ideal for parks because of their size, location, and low cost. One such park is the very popular Mount Trashmore in Virginia Beach. The park spans 165 acres with hills more than 60 feet high and 800 feet long. Facilities include picnic shelters, playground areas, a basketball court, four volleyball areas, parking, vending machines and restrooms, multiple walking trails and two fishing.

Obviously, the Ayres Creek project would not be nearly as complex, but will simply create water access that provides a route for paddlers to travel along the picturesque creek and Newport, Chincoteague and Sinepuxent Bays. The water trail flows about six miles to the Worcester County public boat ramp at South Point on Chincoteague Bay. From there, paddlers can go to the canoe launches at Ferry Landing Road and Bayside Drive on Assateague Island National Seashore or they can travel along Sinepuxent Bay roughly four miles to the Assateague State Park boat ramp at the Verrazano Bridge. It could be a potential location for kayak regattas, which are increasing in popularity throughout the country.

The development of the Ayres Creek Water Trail would also be an important tool to promote tourism by providing the only public water access in upper Ayers Creek that would connect to established areas. Expanding water trails enhances water based recreational opportunities in the area. In addition, it will also help local environmental organizations protect the water quality of Newport, Chincoteague and Sinepuxent bays.

The non-profit Coastal Bays Program has simply been a facilitator in this process and stands no economic gain. We have worked with county and state officials to get this project up and running and we are almost there. It would a shame to let it go now. We are hopeful that resort officials will have a change of heart, or that perhaps Worcester County will step up to the plate and make this project a model for what is achievable through cooperative partnerships.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Rezoning Work Session Oct. 20

The Maryland Coastal Bays Program often calls upon the public to get involved with local issues to ensure citizen voices are being heard and that all sides are considered before decisions are made. This is certainly true with rezoning issues that are vital to preserving and protecting Worcester County’s natural resources.

We encourage everyone to attend a work session Oct. 20 at 1:30 pm at the Worcester County Government Center. The session will focus on zoning maps as part of the comprehensive rezoning plan, which will serve as a guide for determining where growth takes place within the next two decades.

Although initially unhappy with parts of the proposal, we are pleased county staffers and the planning commission have worked together to form compromises that address both property rights and conservation Their recommendations have made the rezoning more consistent with the 2006 Worcester County Comprehensive Plan. Keeping strong agricultural zoning free of non agricultural uses, not allowing upzoning random parcels outside designated growth areas, and removing higher density residential zoning from South Point are all issues that are in-keeping with the 2006 award winning plan.

It is often said that compromise is usually necessary to accomplish major goals, and this process is certainly no exception. By no means did the Coastal Bays Program get everything that we wanted – we would have preferred that a transfer of development rights program for large lot estate zoning and for the excess commercial zoning on Route 50 from Ocean City to Berlin be included in the plan, as well as mandatory conservation subdivision design, not allowing off-site septic, and removal of the more permissive A-2 zoning down MD 611 and east of Berlin.

As pleased as we are with the compromises made, we still must be vigilant. Nevertheless, we remain optimistic that the Worcester County Commissioners will continue to listen to their staff, the planning commission, and the voices of the public to continue to reach a middle ground for all concerned regarding the principal issues on the county's rezoning. It is for this reason that we encourage everyone to attend the Oct. 20 work session.

On a side note, we’d like to take this opportunity to bid a fond farewell and best wishes to Sandy Coyman, who for 10 years was head of the county’s now defunct Comprehensive Planning Department, which was dissolved in May in a department consolidation. As head of that department, Sandy worked to make Worcester County a leader in planning and helped Worcester County win a 2006 award for its nationally recognized comprehensive plan.

He also oversaw the implementation of land protection programs such as the Coastal Bays Rural Legacy Area program, the county’s Agricultural Land Preservation Program, and the Coastal and Estuarine Land Conservation Program. These programs have permanently protected over 8,000 acres of farms and forests in the county since 2000.

Sandy’s job also included tracking trends and anticipating future community needs, educating citizens and getting them involved in community stewardship, supplementing local monies with grants and managing the county-wide Geographic Information System, among other duties.

Sandy’s work protecting natural resources for future generations will continue in Talbot County, where he will head that county’s planning and zoning department beginning later this month. Worcester County’s loss is Talbot County’s gain. We wish him all the best in his new position.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Vote for Grow Berlin Green for Tom's of Maine Award!

Grow Berlin Green’s Neighborhood Green Teams project has been selected as one of 50 finalists for a $20,000 Tom’s of Maine Community Sponsorship award and we can all have a say in the outcome by voting online.

Grow Berlin Green’s Green Team Project is competing against nonprofit organizations from dozens of other states for the Tom’s of Maine award. GBG’s ultimate goal is grow the town “green from the grassroots up”, educating and engaging the community to meet pressing environmental and conservation challenges, leading to establishing it as a model community for environmental protection and conservation.

The Green Teams project will mobilize neighborhood teams to take practical steps to conserve energy and water, increase recycling, reduce solid waste, and build a more sustainable community. Results will include lower energy and water usage, improved water quality and a reduced waste stream. The project will spur neighborhoods and the community as a whole to improve the town’s environmental health and protect the surrounding fragile landscape and hopefully sow the seeds of a citizens’ movement to establish and sustain environmentally sound policies and practices.

Rarely do we have a chance to influence a company’s decisions on where their donated money should be allocated, but here we have a chance to do just that. To vote for Grow Berlin Green go to, click on Community Involvement, then click the Project Sponsorship tab for the list of contenders. You can also find a link to the Tom’s website at Winners will be based on the total number of votes cast on the Tom’s of Maine website. You can vote once a day through Oct. 30. Tom’s of Maine will announce the five winners in November and award each $20,000.

Grow Berlin Green is a three year campaign managed by the Maryland Coastal Bays Program, the Lower Shore Land Trust and Assateague Coastal Trust. It’s funded by a $125,000 grant from the Town Creek Foundation, a private, philanthropic organization dedicated to encouraging a sustainable environment. The GBF campaign includes events and activities designed to involve citizens, business owners and government officials to better build a foundation for citizen and policymaker participation. A community information meeting held in February attracted a standing room only crowd at Berlin Town Hall where citizens offered numerous ideas and suggestions for programs and activities.

In less than one year, GBG has made great strides to meet its goal, including installing a rain garden in town, purchasing and installing rain barrels at several Berlin eateries and distributing thousands of free, reusable shopping bags to area merchants and shoppers. GBG also awarded scholarships to four local teachers to attend the Maryland Association of Environmental and Outdoor Education Conference held in Ocean City earlier this year. Still, there is more to be done and winning the $20,000 Tom’s of Maine award will help keep the momentum going.

Tom’s of Maine manufactures personal care products in Sanford, Maine, in an environmentally sensitive manufacturing facility using natural ingredients derived from plants and minerals and biodegradable, earth-friendly recycled and recyclable packaging, according to the company’s website. Ten percent of the company’s profits are donated to charitable organizations and Tom’s employees are encouraged to use 5-percent of their paid time doing volunteer work for the organization of their choice.

Monday, October 5, 2009

10th Annual Osprey Triathlon Raises $43K

More than 400 athletes from across the region competed in the 10th Annual Osprey Sprint Triathlon at Public Landing Saturday, Oct. 3 to benefit the Maryland Coastal Bays Foundation.

The $75 entrance fee and generous local sponsorships helped raise more than $43,000, which will be used for restoration, monitoring, and education in the coastal bays watershed. Despite the cloudy and threatening weather, hundreds of spectators gathered to cheer on racers during the half-mile swim in Chincoteague Bay, the 15.2-mile bike course and the 3.1-mile run on the roads surrounding the rural countryside of southern Worcester County.

This year’s winners included 42 year old Kent Buckson of Rehoboth Beach, who finished first with a time of 1:10:01. Patrick Serfass, 31 of Washington, DC finished second 1:10:28 , followed by Steve Meininger, 40, of Clarksville, Md with a time of 1:11:14.

In the women’s category, Krista Schultz, 31, finished first with a time of 1:20:26, followed by second place winner Rebecca Durivage-jac, 25, of Baltimore, with a time of 1:26:16. Melissa Denault of Berlin, 42, took third place, crossing the finish line with a time of 1:28:12.

Our youngest competitors were Vivian Killian, 11, of Kensington, MD, who finished with a time of 2:33:21, Jason Wuertz, 12, of Chesapeake, Va, who finished at 2:12:11 and Joshua Wuertz, 13, also of Chesapeake, Va who crossed the finish line with a time of 2:22:46.

Our oldest competitors were 70-year-old John Mulflur of Easton, who came in at 1:48:04; 73-year-old Robert Healy of Stevensville, Md who finished at 1:48:37; Joe Marhoefer, 73, of Reston, Va, who crossed the finish line at 2:00:33 and Huston Bud Schlosser, 77, of Dover, Pa who finished with a time of 2:54:30.

The 10th annual Osprey Sprint Triathlon was sponsored by Seacrets, M & T Bank, Bahia Marina, Thrasher’s Fries, Gismondi Insurance, Taylor Bank, Francis Scott Key Motel, OC Wasabi, Sun Signs, Delmarva Power, Barcoding Inc., Ocean City Chiropractic Clinic, Halls Restaurant, the Original Greene Turtle, Bike Sports, Pepsi, Home Depot, Coastal Builders, Atlantic General Hospital, Mike Truitt of Merrill Lynch and Worcester County Tourism.

Thanks also to Hi-Tide Marine, Todd Burbage and Kool Ice and Seafood for donating goods and services and to local artist Kirk McBride who donated the logo design for our 10th anniversary race. T-shirts sporting the new logo will be sold during the race and at the pre-race dinner Friday night at Sunset Grille in West Ocean City. A final thanks to the Worcester County Public Works Department and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

For complete race results visit