ANNAPOLIS – Eastern Shore officials were surprised and angered this week when two Baltimore County delegates proposed a bill to restrict development on the coastal bays without consulting them.
The bill proposed by Baltimore County Democratic Delegates Dan K. Morhaim and Michael H. Weir would include the coastal bays under the Chesapeake Bay Critical Area Act, which was created in 1984 to restrict development on the bay shores. That act uses a variety of methods, including setting buffer zones along the shore, to impede development. The bill would extend those restrictions to the coastal bays.
If the bill passes, developers in Ocean City and other areas near the coastal bays would face tougher restrictions in developing shorefront property.
Delegate K. Bennett Bozman, D-Worcester, said the bill was not researched and is a political ploy by Morhaim to appear environmentally friendly. Morhaim recently received a perfect score from the Maryland League of Conservation Voters on his environmental voting record.
“It’s just a lot of people trying to be political,” he said. “Would I support this? No, because they’ve done no research.”
However, the coastal bays need the same protection as the Chesapeake, Morhaim said.
“It’s a unique resource just like the bay so let’s make it like the bay,” he said.
Worcester County officials were also upset about the sudden proposal. They, like Bozman, were angered the co-sponsors didn’t consult them before submitting the bill.
“This, to me, is simply an act of someone sticking their nose in someone’s business where it doesn’t belong,” said Worcester County Commissioner Virgil L. Shockley. “This is something legislators just don’t do.”
Morhaim defended the bill, saying the bays are state property as well as local.
“The coastal bays are owned by all the citizens of Maryland,” he said. “No one has ever said that legislators who aren’t from the Chesapeake Bay area can’t introduce bills regarding the Chesapeake Bay.”
The bill was also a slap in the face to those making efforts to improve the water quality of the bays, Bozman said.
The Maryland Coastal Bays Program, created in 1996, has been working with developers, government officials and environmentalists to push development buffers farther back than the current 25-foot limit. Program Director David Blazer sent a letter to Morhaim Thursday urging him to withdraw the bill.
“We do not support this bill because it’s not fair to the people who have worked with us,” said David Wilson, the Maryland Coastal Bay Program’s public outreach officer. “It’s premature.”
Morhaim is unsure whether or not he will pursue the bill, but said even if he withdraws it, the controversy it caused would make it a success.
“The good news is that a lot of people are focusing on the coastal bay issue,” he said.
The Chesapeake Critical Areas Act protects about 650,000 acres of land, 80 percent of which is undeveloped.