CHESTERTOWN — A day of firsts, the Port of Chestertown Marina celebrated its official re-opening Friday, Nov. 1 — also the first day of Downrigging Weekend.
“The main reason we’re here today is to thank all of the agencies at the state and federal level and also all the individuals that contributed to this project either monetarily or in kind or by writing letters,” Chestertown Mayor Chirs Cerino said during the ceremony and ribbon cutting. “It’s basically the town reaching out to you to say ‘thank you so much for your help’ because this could not have happened without you.”
The event was held at the new Cerino Center, which houses the marina office and is leased out to ShoreRivers.
Cerino called the project of refurbishing the marina an “eight-year ordeal” that’s been a “long time coming” and a “lot of hard work.”
Cerino credited Gov. Larry Hogan with helping the town form connections with agencies like the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which provided grants to pay for the project.
Cerino described the marina Hogan visited in 2016 as “a flat out dump.” He said the marina needed to be lifted by at least 2 feet due to the near constant coastal flooding the Eastern Shore has been experiencing recently.
The marina was purchased in 2012 by the town with a Maryland infrastructure bond from the Department of Housing and Community Development. Cerino said it was purchased in an effort to preserve access to the water, promote economic development and to ensure Chestertown’s legacy as a historical port town stays intact.
Pete Landon, director of the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security, and Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio, secretary of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, both praised the completion of the marina as a tribute to Chestetown’s history as a port town.
Landon said in the 1700s, Chestertown was the second largest port in Maryland, second only to Annapolis. He said the town also served as the geographical center of the United States.
“Today marks the second event that is likely to bring people to Chestertown. Most people think we have a tea party all the time here. Well now in November they know that we have Downrigging. I think that it is very fitting that this is not, I won’t say grand opening, maybe re-opening of the port,” Landon said.
Speaking on behalf of Hogan, Landon thanked the town for its efforts to complete the marina.
Haddaway-Riccio said protecting public access to the water drove the DNR’s decision to award more than $2 million in grant money to help complete the project.
She also said Chestertown having a functional marina helps ensure the heritage of the town as a port remains intact.
Cerino said without the DNR’s help, the project would never have been completed.
“They stuck with us from the very, very beginning. They gave us our first planning grant. They gave us dredging funds. They gave us grants from the Waterway Improvement Fund,” Cerino said.
Denise Lovelady, state director for the United States Department of Agriculture Rural Development in Maryland and Delaware, said rebuilding infrastructure is one of the USDA’s top priorities.
Cerino praised the USDA as being “absolutely essential” for helping complete the project.
“What you guys might not realize is about 75% of the work that was done here is actually under your feet, right? I don’t know if you all saw the tide last night, it was really high. We would have been under 2 feet of water without question last night alone, let alone earlier in the month when we had consistent on-shore winds,” Cerino said.
He said USDA helped the town fund raising the property, install new water lines, fuel lines and sewage lines.
Ken Holt, secretary of Maryland Housing and Community Development, also praised the completion of the project because of the Chester River and Chesapeake Bay’s status as a “cherished asset.”
As assistant secretary of Maryland Department of Commerce, Tom Riford said he works with tourism, the arts, marketing and communication in the state. He said projects like the marina are worth believing in.
Riford said the marina has the distinction of being located in an Arts and Entertainment District as well as a Historic District.
“Tourism is important here in this economy. Being able to tell its story, bring people here to spend money and leave. And that’s a good thing,” Riford said. “Those visitors who come here, we don’t have to build them a new school or build them a new sewer plant, but we do welcome them.”
On the local level, Cerino thanked employees at the town office like Zoning Administrator Kees de Mooy, Town Manager Bill Ingersoll and Town Clerk Jennifer Mulligan.
Cerino also thanked Commissioner Bob Jacob and Del. Jay Jacobs, R-36-Kent, for their support of the project as well as the Chestertown council members, who all attended.
He also thanked individual donors for contributing more than $1.3 million, which helped the town match the funds provided through the DNR’s Waterway Improving Fund grants.
“If you’ve seen what the town’s budget looks like, we don’t have $200,000 every fiscal year to match these grants,” Cerino said. “For every dollar those people gave, they allowed us to basically utilize grants that we had already been awarded but did not have a match for.”