I sense that the Eastern Shore, at least part of it, is waking up to the problem of reckless development. When I met new people last week and told them I lived in Oxford, they commented, “I guess you’re worried about the Poplar Hill Farm development.” I am. When I commented to another friend that I was taking the boat out later in the day, he asked, “Does the water seem worse this year?” It does.
These comments are not a scientific poll, but, when taken together with the Talbot Integrity Project “Fix Lakeside” signs and a continual stream of excellent letters to the editor and articles in The Spy expressing concern over development, I see progress. The chorus of voices saying “no” to developers is growing. That is good news. But will the voices get loud enough to reach the ears of county and town councils? That remains an open question.
Our waters—one of the assets that makes the Eastern Shore a wonderful place to live—are in trouble. The data meticulously collected by ShoreRivers, and other organizations indicates a direct connection between development and declining water quality. This means that every vote in favor of additional development, especially development anywhere near our rivers, is a vote to destroy our way of life and turn the Eastern Shore into something mediocre.
Dare I say it? Development is a dirty word. The dirt is bacteria, phosphorus, poor water clarity, chlorophyll a in the water and more. The “dirt” not only often makes it dangerous to swim in the water but threatens the Eastern Shore economy. Like crabs? Either start worrying about the health of our rivers or give Vietnamese crabmeat a try. Newsflash—the Chesapeake Bay fishery is destructible.
I understand why many of us are concerned about uncontrolled development. What I do not understand is why anyone would welcome and promote massive, character-changing “new towns” such as Lakeside and Poplar Hill Farm. The easy answer is that developers are out to make their bucks and won’t be around to address the repercussions (further deterioration of water quality, traffic congestion, overtaxed schools and health resources, more crime, and “development spurred by development,” meaning construction of more big box stores to meet shopping needs of new residents).
Is it only developers’ desires for profits behind the threats to the Eastern Shore? I think not. The problem is also delusional thinking—the belief that more people will somehow make the community stronger. If Easton or Chestertown were five times as large as they are now, for example, would the cultural offerings in both be greater than they are today? Good question. But when you answer it, ask yourself what the price will be for “moving into the 21st century.” People forget that growing communities frequently mean endless parades of road-widenings and additional trailers to “adjust” for overcrowded schools.
No compelling reasons justify growing the Eastern Shore in a manner that degrades our environment. Already fully developed areas of America have plenty of room to accommodate increases in the population. And re-development of these areas brings the added benefits of restoring economic vitality to cities and, by substituting for development in environmentally sensitive areas, improving the environment.
We also must remember climate change. Many of us live in areas where rising sea levels are, or should be, a major concern. Why should the government permit or encourage development in areas that are subject to elevated levels of risk from hurricanes, flooding, and other natural disasters? Better put, why stick our tongues out at mother nature?
When someone asks you what the “Fix Lakeside” signs mean, you can explain the complicated process for approving new sewer capacity, or you can simply say it means there should be no more development without comprehensive consideration of the impact on all aspects of our community and strict compliance with all approval protocols. You can also say elected officials stop destroying the Eastern Shore!
Disclosure: I am a signatory on the Fix Lakeside petition organized by the Talbot Integrity Project. If you haven’t read the petition and considered signing it, I encourage you to do so.
J.E. Dean is a retired attorney and public affairs consultant writing on politics, government, and other subjects.