The best theater captures our imagination, taking us to a different place. I can imagine 1608 on the Chesapeake Bay, our stage, because Captain John Smith wrote about it: “Heaven and earth never agreed better to frame a place for man’s habitations.” So, let’s take a quick look at how we are doing on our stage. The Chesapeake Bay is water, so let’s start there.
ShoreRivers measures water quality and issues reports. The report, as of May 26, 2022, is encouraging. Outside the Choptank River there was only one failing grade and that was Worton Creek on the Sassafras River. Essentially the report says it is safe to swim at 31 locations and only unsafe at eight. Seven of the eight are on the Choptank including Trappe Landing and Sail Winds Park, a stone’s throw from Lakeside, the controversial Trappe land development.
Anybody who has been following the public hearings and procedural steps on Lakeside’s intended development of 2,500 homes, which includes a commercial center, is familiar with waste from La Trappe Creek polluting the Choptank. Swimmers, “stay out”. But what about fishing? I have talked to more than one Waterman who has cursed the decline in water quality and its attack on keystone species.
What is particularly cynical is the development of land in water adjacent habitat without proper environmental safeguards. This is not a development on the plains of Western Kansas. The message: “come and live on the Chesapeake Bay but don’t worry about what we do to it.”
Now, stepping back, let me be clear about my own perspective. Additional housing is a good thing for people who live and work in Talbot and surrounding Counties. Goodness knows housing prices are high, reflecting supply limitations.
But a housing development that assaults the character of our County and is misaligned with the highest standards of treated waste we ask the Bay to absorb is a bridge too far. And we should keep in mind that approximately $15 billion has been spent in cleaning up the Bay. Shouldn’t land development projects have to proceed without reversing what our tax dollars and contributions have accomplished?
I write hoping, more than expecting. A glimmer of hope follows a lawsuit filed several days ago by citizens of Talbot County. The lawsuit raises a simple question. Does the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) have the authority to ignore the Talbot County Planning and Zoning Commission? In a sense, can it allow discharge permits for homes at Lakeside to an inferior treatment plant in Trappe? The law, most simply interpreted, gives the Talbot County Planning and Zoning Commission the right to set the qualifications in its comprehensive plan for such permits.
The Commission on November 3, 2021 said the discharge permit should not be granted. Then on a 3 to 2 vote the Talbot County Council turned on its Commissioners, failing to affirm its decision as did the MDE. What is going on?
Now, to state the glaringly obvious, I am not the first person to write on this subject. Nor do I walk in the shoes of the Plaintiffs, many of whom live in Trappe or close by. But what I do know as a voter in Talbot County, there is not a chance I would vote for anybody who makes the health of the Bay and its tributaries secondary to land development. Harmony between land use and the Bay is essential.
I believe there is a way forward regardless of what the Courts do. But I am not optimistic. The Talbot County Council is led by President Chuck Callahan. He should have worked harder to find solutions that brought all the interested parties to a resolution that could be submitted for approval by the Planning Commission and the County Council. Resolution of difficult issues often take weeks or months and many meetings. Leadership can be a burden, but President Callahan you asked for the job.
Lakeside news will continue to happen; lawsuits are the offspring of disharmony which is the source of most news. It would be nice to get some hopeful reports—ones recognizing the importance of the essential element, water.
Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al writes on themes from his book, Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books.