CHESTERTOWN — Representatives from all nine Eastern Shore counties and the towns of Berlin, Cambridge, Chestertown, Easton, Oxford and Salisbury agreed to an action plan for restoring Shore creeks and rivers and the Chesapeake Bay.
The Healthy Waters Round Table, as the group of more than 30 representatives was called, met four times from August to December to prioritize steps for action. Maryland counties and municipalities are being asked to contribute their own efforts to meet the mandated state pollution reduction goals. Shore counties have made some progress, but many are seeking new ways to accelerate their efforts.
Kent County officials who took part included William Pickrum, president of the county commissioners, and Amy Moredock, director of planning, housing and zoning. Representing Chestertown at the meetings were Mayor Chris Cerino, Councilwoman Liz Gross and Zoning Administrator Kees de Mooy.
The Shore leaders who participated in the program said they valued the opportunity to cooperate on the best methods for achieving clean water. Moredock said the round table was “a positive and productive experience.” Since the initial meeting, she said, she has been attending work sessions to assist in the development of the final plan. “It has become clear to all partners that our challenges are very similar,” she said.
Mordock said the hope is that if all the Shore counties band together to find implementation measures for clean water and ways to fund them, it will improve their chances of meeting the load reduction goals set by the Maryland Department of Environment. Also, she said, the group hopes that a plan addressing the needs of all the Shore counties will be more attractive to funders.
“The Healthy Waters process has resulted in a document that identifies the central issues to implementing Watershed Plans,” de Mooy said. He said those issues include funding, tracking and maintenance of projects to improve water quality. He cited a step pool stormwater runoff system that Chestertown built across from the Kent Plaza shopping center as an example of initiatives the town has taken.
De Mooy said, “By presenting a unified voice, Eastern Shore counties and towns hope to influence state policies and funding so that the high costs of water quality will be equitably shared.”
According to a news release from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the group recommended five preliminary steps to pursue in 2016. The group narrowed down a list of 120 ideas into a handful of initial actions that could be accomplished with existing resources. They also identified longer-range actions attainable with added resources.
The steps recommended for 2016 are to provide grant writing training; to create and distribute model documents for soliciting grants and consulting services; to secure staff training for the Maryland Assessment Scenario Tool, a web-based application to streamline environmental planning; to provide staff training in social marketing and public education; and to obtain clarity and guidance on state stormwater management expectations and priorities for Shore communities.
Longer-term priorities of the group include identifying means to fill gaps in funding water quality control projects; streamlining the tracking and reporting of best management practices; and developing policies and procedures to extend sewer service to areas currently on septic systems.
The group is also seeking to create a circuit rider system to assist jurisdictions with contractor help; to establish a clearinghouse of resources for reducing pollution; and to improve the maintenance of devices and practices used to control polluted runoff.
To follow up, six work groups are being formed, each tasked with developing a detailed work plan to implement one priority. All local government representatives on the Shore are welcome to attend the upcoming work group meetings, the news release said.
Maryland and five other states in the Chesapeake Bay region, along with the District of Columbia, have until 2025 to reduce pollution to specific levels under the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint, a regional plan to restore water quality. The plan requires each state to submit progress reports every two years. If achieved, the pollution reductions will significantly boost the populations of fish, oysters and crabs in the Bay, heal damaged aquatic habitats and boost economic development, experts say.