Are you among those excited about the prospect of hundreds of new homes being built in Talbot County and elsewhere on the Eastern Shore? I am not. And you should not be either.
I travel the Oxford corridor on a regular basis. I usually avoid St. Michaels Road because it is dangerous, especially at night and in inclement weather. I do not want to see more traffic. I do not want to wait 10 minutes, through three lights, to turn left onto 322. And I certainly do not want to wait 10 to 15 years until the Talbot County government develops a “solution” to the problem by rebuilding the 322/Oxford Road intersection.
Traffic woes are just part of the problem. I worry about our schools. Do pro-growth champions want to see children taking classes in trailers while already overtaxed schools are expanded? And what about the quality of education? I do not have children in the Talbot County Schools, but people repeatedly tell me that they are dissatisfied with the quality of education. Many people think the current school system is underfunded. Injecting hundreds of new students into the system will not solve that problem. And even if new tax revenues are created, the quality of education will decline.
Can we talk about healthcare? We are grateful for the courage of Eastern Shore health professionals during the pandemic, but everyone I talk to worries about the availability and quality of care. I recently looked for a new primary care physician. I had no luck finding a doctor with the skills and experience I require. I was told that I should look for a doctor in Annapolis or at Hopkins in Baltimore. Do I want to drive an hour or more to see a doctor when I am ill?
Let’s talk about public safety. Any significant increase in population necessitates more police. Will new taxes cover the cost? What if our public-safety issues become more challenging? Let’s say our towns morph into “small cities,” and we see more crime. Will more police be needed? Will we see more substance abuse? Burglary? Domestic abuse? Will we have the social services required to address these increased problems when we need them? Highly doubtful. More likely tax revenues will not grow in proportion to the new costs associated with a larger population. Any promises that developers made are unlikely to solve these problems, especially when we have uber pro-development people negotiating the deals.
And then there is the question of our water quality. Let’s break it into two parts. More development means more wastewater being dumped into the Chesapeake Bay watershed. I don’t want to hear about “temporary waivers” based on future promises. I want to see clean water now. I also worry about more boats on the water, especially loud ones. I moved here to live in “the land of pleasant living.” I don’t want our waters to look like the lake depicted in “Caddyshack.” You know, the film where Rodney Dangerfield runs his oversized yacht into Judge Smells’ sailboat.
These are valid concerns. But to some people I have talked to, and according to some of the 41 responses to the letter to the Spy by Lynn Leonhardt Mielke about Eastern Shore development, they are not showstoppers. Some responses to Mielke’s letter implied that unless we double our population in 10 years, the Eastern Shore will “die.” I suspect that this view reflects the belief that if our population increased dramatically, we would see better restaurants, more culture, more festivals, and more people willing to vote Andy “Handgun” Harris out of office.
In my view, there is one issue, not talked about, that is the proverbial showstopper–climate change. I wonder how our government leaders can permit significant new development when climatologists tell us that water levels are rising, and that the possibility of super storms is increasing. If our infrastructure is already at capacity, are we prepared to rebuild after a massive storm or deal with the repercussions of water levels continuing to rise faster than predicted? The answer is no.
I suspect that government officials comfortable with more growth figure they will be out of office when “the sh*t hits the fan.” The inability of people to evacuate in the face of a massive storm because our roads are overwhelmed is somebody else’s problem. So what if it becomes impossible for people to flee to safety if you are no longer being held accountable.
I suggest that development be prohibited until viable solutions are developed to address the short-term public service capacity issues and the long-term climate change safety issues. Any new development must include the resources necessary to address these concerns. And if those costs are calculated honestly, the concessions required of developers will render many projects not economically viable.
The time to kick the can down the road is over. The assumption that “solutions will be found when we need them” is false. For the Eastern Shore, now is the time to take necessary actions to ensure that the Eastern Shore is livable in 20 or 30 years.
J.E. Dean is a retired attorney and public affairs consultant writing on politics, government, and, when the Constitution is not under attack, other subjects. J.E. will be on summer vacation for the next two weeks and will resume spying August 31.