Monday, January 18, 2010

We Need You for our Citizens Advisory Committee

Citizen involvement is a vital component to a successful non-profit organization, and the Maryland Coastal Bays Program has certainly been blessed to have so many people step up to the plate and volunteer their time to help protect and preserve our watershed.

The Coastal Bays Citizen’s Advisory Committee was formed when the MCBP came into being more than a decade ago. The committee included representation from the farming, business, recreational and commercial fishing interests. This diverse group of people brought together to solicit opinions from a broad spectrum of resource groups for the purpose of participating in the development and review of the Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan (CCMP) for the bays behind Ocean City and Assateague. This plan, aimed at preserving this precious coastal resource, represents a consensus of the best means needed to preserve the economic and ecological prosperity of the coastal bays in the next century.

The Coastal Bays Program is part of the National Estuary Program, which is administered by the Environmental Protection Agency. However, program decisions and activities are carried out by committees made up of relevant stakeholders to identify and prioritize the problems in the estuary. Most NEPs choose a management framework that includes a Citizens Advisory Committee to represent the interests of estuary user-groups and the public.

The CAC membership should be broad-based and provide a non-governmental perspective on how policies affect citizens who live and work in the coastal bays watershed. The CAC should address a whole range of environmental problems facing the estuary.

Over the years, the Coastal Bays Program CAC has evolved to include a speaker series, in which experts from a variety of subjects regarding watershed issues present information at a public meeting. This has been well-received, but the committee’s work to help guide management in the coastal bays is far from over. It is our hope to again form a CAC that meets on a quarterly basis with the goal to provide ongoing advice to the Program on implementing the CCMP for the restoration and protection of the coastal bays.

Community support created the CCMP and will drive it in the future and ultimately it is the residents of this estuary who will benefit. Balancing growth with natural resource protection is the ultimate challenge this estuary faces in the next millennium. When citizen involvement is strong issues remain on the radar screen, raising awareness levels and changing attitudes.

The Coastal Bays Program is a partnership among the towns of Ocean City and Berlin, National Park Service, Worcester County, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the Maryland Departments of Natural Resources, Agriculture, Environment, and Planning. This coalition is strong, but there is no substitute for broader public involvement.

With the goal of broader public involvement, we hope to reinvigorate the original concept of the CAC and will be holding a public meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 27 at 7 pm at the Ocean Pines Library, with the goal to form a committee of stakeholders that will meet quarterly for the longer betterment of our bays.

Ultimately, the responsibility to protect the Maryland Coastal Bays rests with those who live in the watershed. Only by becoming stewards of the Maryland Coastal Bays, caring for them consistently and managing their resources responsibly, can we preserve them for generations to come.