ANNAPOLIS – The 90-day General Assembly session began Wednesday with the Eastern Shore delegation aiming for improved wastewater facilities, a high-speed fiber optic network and aid for the seafood and agriculture industries.
The delegation is armed with a report from the Governor’s Eastern Shore Economic Task Force released this week, which outlines their goals to bring prosperity to one of Maryland’s poorest regions.
Much of the region’s wastewater is handled by septic tanks installed before current state regulations went into place. Because of the shore’s flat land, high water table and drainage pattern toward the Chesapeake Bay these systems pose both health and environmental risks for the area.
The high-speed fiber optic network called for in the report would help close the “digital divide” between the Eastern Shore and the rest of the state and also attract more high-tech businesses.
To help the agriculture and seafood industries on the shore, the task force wants $2 million a year for five years to help provide more advanced techniques for these high-risk industries.
The report, released Tuesday, also called for improved transportation to service commuter and tourist traffic. The Lower Eastern Shore already has begun progress on a transportation system between Wicomico, Worcester and Somerset Counties.
First on the agenda in the report and for the delegation this legislative session is the creation of two economic development councils. The councils would receive and distribute federal and state grants and implement some of the improvements called for in the report, said Delegate Charles McClenahan, R- Somerset.
Gov. Parris N. Glendening, responding to the overtures from the Eastern Shore delegation, authorized the task force more than a year ago to study the economic disparity between the Eastern Shore and the rest of Maryland. All nine Eastern Shore counties report average family incomes below Maryland’s average of $52,040, according to the report.
The report has accomplished more than a list of goals, said U.S. Sen. Paul Sarbanes, who is an Eastern Shore native and graduate of the Wicomico public schools: It has improved communication between Eastern Shore officials,
“Much of our past has been seen as sharply in competition with one another,” he said.
William Ecker, task force chairman, was also impressed with the cooperation among the counties on the report. The report, along with the proposed Upper and Lower Shore councils, could help the region secure funding from both the national and state governments, he said.
While the report will be the outline for the Eastern Shore delegation’s plan for this year’s session, delegation chairman Delegate Norman Conway, D- Wicomico, said that it must not simply collect dust on other legislator’s desks.
“This can’t be put on a shelf somewhere,” he said. “For it to be meaningful it must be implemented.”