CFF Preview: Tom Horton and the Rising Sea Levels of Dorchester County

The Chesapeake Film Festival has gone out of their way this year to emphasize the important theme of conservation, and has consequently assembled a first rate collection of the most current documentaries on climate change, sea level rising, and other global warming issues to screen in the last weekend in October in Talbot County.

Ranging from Leonardo DiCaprio to short films on forestry and the fishing, the festival’s curatorial hand has carefully vetted out the the very best in international filmmaking, but it is suspected that the film that will have the most impact locally is case study of rising sea levels in Dorchester County.

The local dream team of filmmaker Sandy Cannon-Brown, photographer David Harp, and environmental author Tom Horton, who were responsible two years ago for the popular Beautiful Swimmers Revisited, a documentary inspired by William W. Warner’s classic book on of the Chesapeake Bay, have now reunited to tell the sobering tale of the disappearing landscape of Dorchester and the possible for the thirteen other Counties.

The Spy caught up with High Tide in Dorchester writer and narrator Tom Horton a week ago at Bullitt House to talk about the film and its mission to send an important warning to the entire Chesapeake Bay region.

This video is approximately three minutes in length. For more information about the Chesapeake Film Festival please go here

Midshore Riverkeepers Moves to Eastern Shore Conservation Center

Pictured in this under-construction photo, are MRC staff members (left to right) Jake LeGates, Kristin Junkin, Jeff Horstman, Tim Junkin, Suzanne Sullivan, Matt Pluta, Elle O’Brien, Ann Frock, and Timothy Rosen.

Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy (MRC) is pleased to announce that it has moved into the Eastern Shore Conservation Center complex. MRC’s new address is 114 South Washington Street, Suite 301, Easton, Maryland, 21601.

During the past five months, the Steam Plant Building, which sits as a separate brick building just adjacent to the main structure on the Conservation Center’s campus, has undergone major renovations, including the construction of a mezzanine second floor and the addition of numerous glass windows. The renovated historic structure has retained its interior brick walls and high ceilings, but now provides 14 individual working spaces, along with an entrance lobby and storage facilities.

MRC’s director of operations, Kristin Junkin, managed the tenant improvements and build-out. “It is charming, historic space,” she says, “reminiscent of a New York warehouse art studio. And we are all delighted to be a part of the new Eastern Shore Conservation Center.”

MRC moved into the structure on September 28, and extends an invitation to all its members and friends to stop by and enjoy a tour.

For more information about MRC is available at midshoreriverkeeper.org or by calling 443.385.0511.

Chesapeake Bay Foundation Join Other Groups in Suit Against EPA

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) and six regional and national groups concerned with human health and a clean environment today filed suit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The organizations want federal action to stop 19 out-of-state power plants from harming Marylanders and the Chesapeake Bay.

“Last week the State of Maryland sued the EPA to force the agency to stop air pollution from hurting Marylanders. The lawsuit today supports the state’s decisive step. It also highlights how the same pollutants harming our children are degrading water quality in the Chesapeake Bay, its rivers and streams. Fish are having as much trouble breathing as people because of these 19 power plants,” said Jon Mueller, Vice President of Litigation at CBF.

The 19 plants are in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, West Virginia and Kentucky. All are coal-fired plants. A total of 36 generating units at the plant are targeted by the lawsuit. Their air pollution emissions drift to Maryland and other downwind states. Maryland and other parts of the Chesapeake Bay region are vulnerable to emissions from a vast 570,000 square-mile Chesapeake “airshed” that stretches from North Carolina to Canada and as far west as the Ohio Valley.

One part of the emissions, nitrogen oxides (NOx), often turns to ozone in the hot summer months. Ozone, sometimes called smog, makes it difficult for many people to breathe. On 14 days this past summer ozone levels were so high a Code Orange Air Quality Alert was issued for the Baltimore area, meaning the air was unhealthy for seniors, children and others with sensitivities.

NOx, being a form of nitrogen, also harms the Chesapeake and the streams and rivers that feed it. Excess nitrogen fuels algal blooms that result in underwater dead zones where aquatic life can’t breathe.

EPA promised in the regional Bay clean-up plan called the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint that it would lower the amount of nitrogen emitted into the atmosphere yet is has refused to respond to Maryland’s petition. If it did respond nitrogen levels would come down.

In fact, if the 19 plants used their pollution controls effectively through the summer they would send about 39,000 fewer tons of NOx to Maryland each summer, according to the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE). That reduction would make the air and water significantly healthier in Maryland. Simply turning those technologies on fully, in fact, would bring all of Maryland and the Washington, D.C. area closer to compliance with clean air standards for ozone, according to MDE.
EPA is obligated by law to hold a public hearing and to timely respond to Maryland’s petition. EPA has failed in both respects and has shown no signs of acting. The six environmental and public health groups have no choice but to ask a federal judge to hold EPA accountable.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland. It requests EPA act on this interstate air pollution problem. The “good neighbor” provision of the Clean Air Act requires states to ensure that air pollution generated in their home states not harm downwind states.

Participating in the lawsuit are: CBF (lead counsel), Sierra Club, Environmental Defense Fund, Chesapeake Physicians for Social Responsibility, Environmental Integrity Project, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, and Adirondack Council.
The State of Maryland filed a similar lawsuit against EPA last week.

Wanted: Landowners on the Upper Shore to Help Reverse Northern Bobwhite Declines by Dan Small

The Natural Lands Project is looking for landowners interested in setting aside marginal cropland to help declining Northern Bobwhites. Since 2015 we have been working throughout Kent and Queen Anne’s Counties, in addition to these current efforts we would also like to target two areas that currently have small quail populations. These two areas, one each in Kent and Queen Anne’s, have some existing habitat, but we could have a major positive impact on the quail population by installing additional acres of nesting and brood rearing habitat. In Queen Anne’s we are looking to work with landowners along Lands End Road from Southeast Creek south to the Corsica River and in Kent, farms between Betterton and Still Pond (see accompanying maps).

Male Indigo Bunting in a wildflower meadow planted in 2016 by NLP.

People growing up on the Eastern Shore in the 60’s and ‘70s remember well the loud expressive whistle ‘BOB-white’ emanating from around the farm in late spring and lasting throughout the hot summer months. In the cooler months, bird dogs searched for the scent of nearby quail coveys through wooded edges, scrubby briar tangles, hedgerows and bean fields across property boundaries followed closely by their owners. This characteristic bird, the Northern Bobwhite, of Maryland’s agricultural landscape has disappeared from all but a few isolated areas throughout the Shore. Along with the decline in quail populations, we hear fewer grassland birds and see fewer pollinating insects and wildflowers.

There are myriad theories for the drastic decline in grassland biodiversity in such a short period of time and most, if not all, have a grain of truth to them. However, without a doubt the single largest driver of bobwhite decline on the Eastern Shore is habitat loss. Several factors have contributed to habitat loss; there are simply more people living on the shore and as a result we have more developed areas. Additionally, our farms have changed. The acceleration of farming technologies after World War II brought with it larger equipment and increased use of herbicides and pesticides, tools that allowed farmers to till more ground more of the time. This, in turn, led to larger and larger farms and fewer and fewer small fields. Suddenly the ‘back forty’ that was periodically fallow and permanently surrounded by a hedgerow was no longer. Today much of landscape on the Shore is defined by crops, forests, waterways and buffers of exotic cool season grasses—similar to lawns—with little in between.

Map showing target area in Queen Anne’s County, an area where additional habitat would substantially help Northern Bobwhite populations.

But all is not lost. In 2015 Washington College’s Center for Environment & Society (CES) partnered with the Chester River Association (CRA) and Tall Timber Research Station, the nation’s leader in bobwhite research and management of fire-dependent ecosystems, to launch the Natural Lands Project (NLP) with a $700,000 award from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. Using the remarkable habitat restoration success at CES’s research station on Chino Farms in Queen Anne’s County and CRA’s success at promoting best management practices on local area farms, NLP set out with the goal of creating a balance between cropland and wildlife habitat to improve water quality. NLP promotes and installs native warm season grasses as best management practices that will help reverse bobwhite population declines and reduce excess sedimentation and nutrient runoff in our waterways.

Map showing target area in Kent County, an area of small farms and hedgerows – the addition of nesting habitat would help Northern Bobwhites.

In addition to buffers and fields for bobwhite NLP also installs wetlands in poorly drained areas of marginal farm fields. Wetlands are phenomenal at reducing nutrients and preventing sediment from entering the Bay’s tributaries, with the added benefit of proving critical habitat for over-wintering waterfowl. Following up on the successful launch of NLP in 2015, CES was just recently awarded another round of funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to continue adding habitat for grassland biodiversity and to help improve the Bay’ water quality – see http://chestertownspy.org/2017/09/24/500k-grant-to-center-for-environment-and-society/

It is important to note that productive farming, vibrant wildlife, and healthy water are not mutually exclusive. By taking marginal cropland out of production and planting a mix of native warm season grasses and wildflowers we are creating areas for bobwhite, other grassland birds, and pollinators to find much needed food, shelter, and breeding sites.

Male Northern Bobwhite on Chino Farms.

On Chino Farms there is a thriving native bobwhite population, in fact, now the largest in Maryland. This is a result of well-managed grasslands and early successional habitat that weave throughout a for-profit conventional agricultural operation. Since 1999 when marginal areas of row crops were converted to native habitat, these grasslands have reduced an estimated 80 lbs phosphorus, 1200 lbs nitrogen and 40,500 lbs of sediment from entering our local waterways annually. Our experience and results on Chino make us confident that habitat is the key missing ingredient for quail to once again to thrive on the Shore. As an Eastern Shore community we now need to work on landscape-level change, installing and managing grasslands and wetlands alongside of our farming priorities.

If you would like to find out more about the project, arrange a farm visit or see/hear quail on Chino Farms contact Dan Small, dsmall2@washcoll.edu or 410-708-4479 or visit www.washcoll.edu/nlp. We are looking forward to working with many more of the Eastern Shore’s best land stewards as NLP grows.

 

Open House at Horn Point Laboratory October 14

The University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science’s Horn Point Laboratory invites the public to a free Open House on Saturday, October 14, 2017, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Located along the banks of the Choptank River on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, the laboratory is renowned for its study of marine ecosystems.

The theme for this year’s event is “Bay Strong – fighting for a clean environment.” It features exhibits by the laboratory’s scientists of their investigations in the Chesapeake Bay and coastal areas along the Atlantic Coast. This year’s theme will introduce our visitors to the super heroes fighting for a healthier Chesapeake Bay. All Community Open House activities are free and open to the public, and children will receive a free t-shirt.

“This is the best day of the year for the community to learn about the science of the Bay. Everyone at the lab is on deck to explain their research with activities and displays that make it easy to understand,” said Horn Point Laboratory Director Mike Roman.
– Build a healthy marsh and learn who are our best partners in this effort.
– See an animation of the travels of oyster larvae as they move from the reef where they spawned to their new, permanent home reef.
– Match up a DNA sequence to microscopic creatures important to the food chain.
– Touch a sturgeon whose ancestors date to the Jurassic period
– Create different shorelines and model weather’s impact with laser imaging over a sand pit.
– Meet and talk to graduate students about their environmental career goals.
– At the children’s activity booth, create animals that live in the water with thumb print art. Play games that teach fun facts about the Bay. Go on a scavenger hunt through the exhibits to learn how the Bay’s super heroes are fighting for a cleaner environment.

The open house is designed to interest all ages and will take place rain or shine. The Horn Point Laboratory campus is located 2020 Horns Point Road on Route 343 outside of Cambridge, Maryland.

For more information, visit  http://www.umces.edu/hpl/openhouse or contact Carin Starr at cstarr@umces.edu, 410-221-8408.

Part of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science’s statewide network of research centers, the Horn Point Laboratory on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, has advanced society’s understanding of the world’s estuarine and ocean ecosystems. Horn Point scientists are world-respected for their interdisciplinary programs in oceanography, water quality, restoration of sea grasses, marshes and shellfish, and investigations of sea level rise and storm surge.

UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND CENTER FOR ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE
For 90 years, the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES) has led the way toward better management of Maryland’s natural resources and the protection and restoration of the Chesapeake Bay. From a network of laboratories spanning from the Allegheny Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean, our scientists analyze changes in rivers and streams, monitor air quality, sample fish populations, and assess the impacts of climate change along our coastal communities. We provide sound scientific advice to help state and national leaders manage the environment and prepare future scientists to meet the global challenges of the 21st century. www.umces.edu

Ride for Clean Rivers Tops $60,000

On Sunday, September 18, Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy (MRC) hosted hundreds of cyclists from across the region who converged at Chesapeake College to experience firsthand the Midshore’s natural beauty during the 13th Annual Ride for Clean Rivers.

Close to 400 riders took to the backroads of Maryland’s Eastern Shore, exploring rural countryside, and visiting Tuckahoe State Park, the small town of Queen Anne, and Kingston Landing. It was a day filled with fun, friends, and fitness. MRC would like to thank everyone who cycled, volunteered, sponsored, and cheered throughout the day. With such strong support, MRC raised well over $60,000 toward protecting and restoring Midshore rivers.

MRC staff (L-R) Matt Pluta, Meta Boyd, Rebecca Murphy, Suzanne Sullivan, Elle O’Brien, Jeff Horstman, Ann Frock, and Kristin Junkin.

Thank you to Dock Street Foundation, KELLY Benefit Strategies, Chesapeake College, Agency of Record, Bay Imprint, Bay Pediatric Center, Bike Doctor, Bicycling magazine, Blessings Environmental Concepts, The Brewer’s Art, C-Jam Yacht Sales, Diamondback Bikes, Dr. Computer, S.E.W Friel, The Orthopedic Center, Solar Energy Services, and Sweetwater Brewing for sponsoring this year’s ride. Thank you to rest stop sponsors—Adkins Arboretum, 4-H Chesapeake Bay Club, and Sprout—and the SAG (support and gear) crew that helped keep riders safe and energized. Bike racks were provided by Cambridge Multi-Sport, food was catered by BBQ Joint and Chesapeake College, and the band was Edgemere. And finally, thank you for the support of all riders and rider sponsors. Congratulations to the top fundraisers, Bob Eisinger, Hutch Smith, Debi McKibben, and Tom Fauquier. McKibben was the winner of a Century 2 bike, generously donated by Diamondback.

All proceeds from Ride for Clean Rivers support MRC’s education, restoration, and water quality monitoring programs.

Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the restoration, protection, and celebration of the waterways that comprise the Choptank River, Eastern Bay, Miles River, and Wye River watersheds. For more information, visit midshoreriverkeeper.org, email kdroter@midshoreriverkeeper.org, or phone 443.385.0511.

PA legislator’s bill to privatize cleanup gets mixed review

A Pennsylvania lawmaker wants Keystone state municipalities struggling with Chesapeake Bay mandates to let private industry take care of it. He says for-profit companies can get the job done better and more cheaply than government can. Others, though, are not so sure.

State Sen. Richard Alloway II, a member of Pennsylvania’s delegation to the Chesapeake Bay Commission, introduced the Clean Water Procurement Program bill in June. It would require 850 municipalities under orders to reduce their stormwater pollution to pay $500 million over 10 years into a state-managed fund.
That fund would be used to pay private entities for making nutrient reductions to bring Pennsylvania into compliance with the federal “pollution diet” for the estuary.

“I have a fundamental feeling that government shouldn’t be shelling out money or doing the work,” said Alloway, a Republican who represents several south-central counties. “Government has been doing that for years, and we’re still behind. The private sector is going to provide the solution with technology.”

Alloway’s bill is one of several introduced in Harrisburg this legislative session that seek new strategies for financing water-quality improvements in cash-strapped Pennsylvania, which has cut environmental programs even as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency repeatedly warned the state that it was missing pollution reduction milestones.

Bills similar to Alloway’s have been introduced without success at least three times since 2013, all at the behest of Bion Environmental Technologies. It’s one of two companies that have built state-financed pilot projects in Pennsylvania intended to reduce farm runoff. Alloway acknowledged that the bill he introduced this year was drafted by Bion, though he bridled at critics’ suggestions that it’s a bailout for the company.

Bion and another company, EnergyWorks, underwritten in part by state loans, installed systems on two large farms a decade ago to demonstrate technologies that can convert nutrients in animal manure into marketable byproducts. The projects were touted at the time as a way to keep animal waste from fouling streams and the Bay, while also generating economic benefit. And the nutrient reductions themselves were to be salable to others required to reduce their pollution.

At the time, Pennsylvania was also developing its first nutrient trading program, initially intended to help municipalities save money on costly upgrades to wastewater treatment plants by paying farmers to curb their runoff. Advocates of the projects said the state loans they got would be repaid with income from nutrient “credit” sales.

Equipment in the floor of Kreider Farms’ dairy barn collects manure. Unable to generate sufficient revenue, the project to convert cattle waste into energy and other byproducts has shut down. (Bion Environmental Technologies)

Bion, though, is in default on the $7.8 million state loan it received to build a manure treatment system on Kreider Farms, a large dairy operation in Lancaster County. The facility has been shuttered for three years, a move Bion CEO Dominic Bassani said was needed to stop losing $25,000 a month in operating costs.

EnergyWorks also fell behind on repaying at least $11 million in state financing to build its $40 million system at an egg-laying facility near Gettysburg. EnergyWorks has renegotiated the terms of its loan and continues to make partial payments.

The two large pilot projects were betting on selling nutrient credits for $8 to $10 per pound to pay back their state-funded loans — but nutrient credits have traded at a fraction of that for the last seven years. Wastewater treatment plants were expected to buy most of the credits, but many chose to upgrade their plants instead.

“Our facility was created as a nutrient credit generator; it was not an afterthought or part of the process,” said Patrick Thompson, president and chief executive officer of EnergyWorks Group, who supports Alloway’s bill. “This is an implicit public-private partnership. We went into this [believing] that we would create a public good. And it was up to the state to create a market for this public good.”

Bion CEO Bassani said he doesn’t see Alloway’s bill as a municipality-funded bailout. Rather, he said it gives cities and towns an affordable alternative to costly projects aimed at reducing stormwater pollution. “We’re offering nutrient reductions for less,” he said. “You’re reducing such a small amount and spending a fortune. Until you can figure out how you’re going to solve this problem, stop the spending. This is taxpayer money.”

As written, Senate Bill 799 would tweak the Pennsylvania nutrient trading program with an influx of new buying power — $50 million a year — garnered from communities required to reduce polluted runoff from their streets and parking lots. Stormwater pollution is the only source of the Bay’s nutrient problems that continues to grow.

Alloway and Bassani argue that instead of investing in costly infrastructure projects, municipalities can meet their nutrient-reduction obligation by paying to have farms deal with their animal manure. By “buying” nutrient credits for practices on farms, the municipalities would be absolved. Companies like Bion and EnergyWorks would bid to get 10-year nutrient-removal contracts.

The Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors opposes the bill, accoreding Elam M. Herr, the group’s assistant executive director. “As written, there are too many unknowns,” Herr said. Many municipalities have invested heavily in meeting their state and federally imposed stormwater control requirements. They’re also mandated to reduce sediment as well as nutrients, he said, which is not a pollutant currently covered by the state’s trading system.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation blasted a similar bill two years ago, saying it “threatens to derail current clean water restoration efforts and divert critical funding from proven science-based practices, while favoring proprietary, corporate-backed and costly manure technologies.” But B. J. Small, spokesman for the foundation’s Pennsylvania office, declined to comment on the current bill.

PennAg Industries Association, an agricultural trade group, recently wrote a letter to Alloway supporting the bill — but with a long list of questions and clarifications needed for full support. “PennAg supports the use of technologies as one of the approaches for the Commonwealth to utilize. However, there is not one standalone solution which will generate all the necessary results for Pennsylvania to meet the Bay obligations,” wrote Christian R. Herr, the group’s executive vice president.

One of the bill’s most vocal critics is David Hess, former Department of Environmental Protection secretary, who now represents the Pennsylvania Environmental Council. He contends that Alloway’s bill is too narrowly drafted, and that it would funnel more taxpayer money into specific high-tech agricultural projects. He said that he, and his clients, have problems with that.

“We need to work with Senator Alloway and others to bring more private capital to family farms to make up for the deficit in state funding,” he said, “ “but instead of bringing in a system that would benefit one technology and one solution, we encouraged him to look at these other alternatives instead of high-cost high technology.”

Alloway’s bill, which has just four co-sponsors, is pending in the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, where it’s expected to get a hearing in the next few months.

He said the bill is just a starting point, and he has invited environmentalists, farm interests and municipalities to help revise it. But he insists that private enterprise be involved, and that it have a dependable source of revenue.

“You’re never going to meet your goals by appealing to businesses to do things for the good of the environment,” he said. “When businesses do something, they do it for the good of the bottom line.”

By Donna Morelli, Bay Journal News Service

$500K Grant to Center for Environment and Society

A male bobwhite quail at the Natural Lands Project

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation has awarded Washington College’s Center for Environment & Society (CES) $500,000 to expand its innovative Natural Lands Project into the mid-shore. The foundation grant meets $801,000 in matching funding from CES and its partners, Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy, Ducks Unlimited, and Pickering Creek Audubon Center, for a total of $1.3 million for the project.

The Natural Lands Project (NLP), piloted at the college’s Chester River Field Research Station at Chino Farms, enlists the support of local landowners to restore grassland habitat for bobwhite quail and other species while also creating buffers that help filter runoff into the Chesapeake Bay’s tributaries.

“The Natural Lands Project encompasses the best of what we do and teach—it restores habitat, cleans the Bay, and perhaps most important, it provides an example to our students of how the cultural links between environment and society can be used in restoration,” said John Seidel, director of the CES. “That social and community element in restoration is critical to the future of the Chesapeake, as well as to watersheds around the world.”

The grant, announced Sept. 19, was among 44 projects awarded through the Chesapeake Bay Stewardship Fund, a partnership between the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) and the Environmental Protection Agency’s Nutrient and Sediment Reduction Grants and Small Watershed Grants programs, as well as other partners. Washington College is the only institution of higher education among the recipients.

“Through the Chesapeake Bay Stewardship Fund, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and our partners, especially the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, continue to invest in locally led efforts to protect and restore the more than 100,000 miles of local rivers and streams that feed the Bay,” said Jeff Trandahl, executive director and CEO, NFWF. “These investments demonstrate that the actions necessary to restore local rivers and streams go hand in hand with opportunities to enhance local communities.”

One of the biggest issues for the Bay on the Eastern Shore is agricultural runoff. Collaterally, as more acreage is put into agriculture, grassland and upland habitats are vanishing, and with them, iconic species like the bobwhite quail. Using the restored grasslands at the college’s Chester River Field Research Station, Dan Small, a field ecologist with CES and now coordinator of the NLP, has been conducting surveys to document the quail population in the restored grasslands and around the farm. By last year, Small and Washington College student researchers documented an average of 25 calling males and an estimated 29 coveys—the highest concentration of the species in the state of Maryland since its precipitous decline began decades ago.

As a game bird, the bobwhite historically is on a cultural par with the Canada goose on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Its loss was keenly felt among hunters, sportsmen, and farmers. In an effort to motivate landowners to create more habitat for the quail—and, by extension, create buffers that would help reduce agricultural runoff into the Bay’s tributaries—the CES worked with the Chester River Association in 2015 to spin the quail restoration into the Natural Lands Project with a $700,000 award from the Department of Natural Resources.

“The concept was simple,” said Mike Hardesty, associate director of programs and staff at CES. “Transform less-than-productive agricultural land into natural habitat for iconic species. Give landowners a cultural reason—even more compelling than a financial one—to set aside some of their land for habitat management, which in turn would benefit local water quality and Bay restoration efforts.” The NLP also restores wetlands in order to achieve similar water quality and wildlife benefits.

In the first two years, the NLP created 274 acres of native upland grasses and wildflowers in marginal cropland on 11 participating farms. Ten wetlands projects—25 acres of wetlands in fields with unproductive soils poorly suited for growing crops—were also completed. College students and CES researchers began what will be a continuing survey of bird populations to monitor abundance and diversity at each site.

The new funding will be used to expand the project to into the middle and upper Eastern Shore to 285 more acres of buffers and 16 more acres of wetlands. Before receiving the award, five landowners signed on for an additional 115 acres. CES expects this project and its focus to grow and the model to be used in watersheds across the country.

Watch a video about the Natural Lands Project.

 

MD Septic Pollution Lawsuit Cleared for Trial

A Caroline County judge has ruled that a former Maryland woman who sued the state and the Eastern Shore town of Goldsboro, blaming them for the loss of her family campground to unchecked septic pollution, will have her day in court.

In early September, Circuit Court Judge Sidney Campen denied a motion by the town and the state to dismiss the case, saying that a jury needed to decide if either bore responsibility for the pollution to Lake Bonnie, a 28-acre impoundment on the 100-acre property that Gail Litz used to own.  The judge has yet to set a trial date.

In 1996, the Caroline County Health Department closed the campground’s lake to swimming, citing unsafe fecal coliform levels in the water, which were traced to failing septic systems in nearby Goldsboro.

That same year, the town signed a consent order with the Maryland Department of the Environment acknowledging that residents’ septic systems were failing. The order outlined a schedule for the town to install a public sewer system and said Goldsboro would be fined $100 a day if it did not comply.

The town never undertook the wholesale fix, and the state didn’t enforce the order. In 2010, Litz lost her property to foreclosure and filed a lawsuit, alleging the town and county’s negligence cost her the property.  She asked for $7 million in compensation.

Campen wrote that the “most significant and overarching disputed fact” in this case is whether, and to what extent, the pollution of Lake Bonnie continued after the 1996 consent order. “This factual dispute must first be resolved by a jury before other factual or legal issues can be addressed,” the judge wrote.

For seven years, across various courtrooms, Goldsboro’s attorneys said that the town had no money to fix the problem, and that Litz had waited too long to file suit.  The state also argued that it was not legally obligated to enforce the consent order. Lawyers for the MDE contended that they could not force Goldsboro to pay.

Those arguments prevailed in lower court hearings, but in February 2016, Maryland’s highest court said that the state’s failure to enforce the consent order could be viewed as “inverse condemnation” if Litz could prove it was the septic pollution that caused her loss. The case was sent back to Caroline County Circuit Court for a trial.

A trial was all Litz has wanted since she filed the lawsuit seven years ago. After losing her home and lake, she moved in with her son and his family in Florida, and worried that she wouldn’t have any inheritance to leave them.

“I just want responsibility taken and my children and I to be compensated,” she said. “No one can replace the home we loved and treasured.”

This summer, as the case went before Campen after the town and state filed to dismiss it, both began raising new arguments. After years of not disputing Litz’s claim that Goldsboro’s failing septic systems contaminated Lake Bonnie, MDE attorneys spent much of a July hearing questioning how much of the lake’s problem could be laid on the town. They pointed to other possible sources, including a small llama herd and a chicken farm. In motions filed before the hearing, they also contended that Litz lost her property because of poor business decisions.

Meanwhile, Goldsboro’s attorneys, who had always argued the town could not afford the fixes, said the town was “not obligated” to fix residents’ septic tanks because they were private and fell under the county health department.

In 1985 and again in 1988, Goldsboro residents voted down a sewage plant that would have raised their rates. The plant would have cost several million dollars, but at that point, the federal government was willing to fund 90 percent of it. The cost to Goldsboro residents: between 39 and 62 cents a day, according to Litz’ lawyer, G. Macy Nelson.

After the bank foreclosed on Litz’s property, it sold the campground and lake for $400,000 to a family that now uses the land as a private residence. Three decades after the county health department declared that Goldsboro desperately needed a wastewater treatment system, the state and federal government funded a solution. In 2015, the county broke ground on a $19 million wastewater plant on Greensboro that will connect to the 100 or so homes in Goldsboro, about 10 miles away, next year.

by Rona Kobell

Rona Kobell is a former writer for the Baltimore Sun.

An Eastern Shore Land Conservancy Toast to Sandy Hoon

In a few weeks, the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy will be having their annual gala in Kent County to honor one of their organization’s founders, Alexander “Sandy” Hoon, who passed away a few months ago. The Spy was delighted to hear the news of the gala.

While Sandy might have been best known in his senior years as being the father of the well-known attorney in town, Philip Hoon, the legacy of Sandy Hoon’s contributions to Chestertown, Kent County, and a good bit of the Mid-Shore are not only noteworthy but truly worthy to celebrate.

While no one could never accuse Sandy of shyness, like many of his generation, it was not in his core nature to take a bow. Like many of a certain age, he never sought credit for when he and other dedicated Mid-Shore land conservationists, like former Governor Harry Hughes and Centreville attorney Howard Wood, helped formed the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy in 1990.

But the results of that fledgling organization, twenty-seven years later, show how remarkable that achievement has been. Since those early days, literally thousands of acres of some of the Eastern Shore’s most extraordinary landscapes have been permanently protected in all five counties of the Mid-Shore.  Just as importantly, the ESLC has taken on a leadership role in keeping small towns in the region vibrant with such stunning successes like the Eastern Shore Conservation Center in Easton or the transformational plans for the Cannery Building in Cambridge.

The Spy sat down with the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy’s first and only executive director, Rob Etgen, and Sandy’s son Phil to reminisce  about Sandy and his impact on land conservation.

This video is approximately two minutes in length. For more information about the ESLC gala please go here