By Elizabeth A. Weiss and Sarah Lesher
Eastern Shore lawmakers expressed deep concern Friday over a Navy plan to resume bombing and strafing runs on the Bloodsworth Island Range in the lower Chesapeake Bay.
The plan calls for Patuxent River Naval Air Station to resume use of Bloodsworth and nearby smaller islands for nonexplosive ordnance and live-fire military training. The Navy had long used the islands in and around Tangier Sound for exercises, but voluntarily stopped in 1996.
The proposal to resume exercises, first reported in Friday editions of The (Baltimore) Sun, caught lawmakers by surprise.
“I picked up the Sun this morning and was amazed to read that we’re going to start bombing Bloodsworth Island again,” said Delegate Bennett Bozman, D-Worcester. “I know we have to have national security, but . . . . ”
At their regular meeting Friday, other members of the Eastern Shore delegation in Annapolis acknowledged the need for national security, but said they do not want to jeopardize the health of the bay or nearby residents.
“We want to find a balance,” said Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, R-Kennedyville, who was at Friday’s meeting.. “We need the (military) trials, but we need to save the Chesapeake Bay.”
He pledged to work with the local delegation on the issue.
“Just let us know about the hearings,” said Delegate Adelaide C. Eckardt, R-Dorchester. “We’ll have residents coming out of the woodwork.”
The Navy has scheduled three public comment sessions on the Eastern Shore for the week of March 13, at which officials will take questions, criticism and support of the proposal.
Watermen are already saying they are concerned that if the Navy starts weapons practice on the islands, precious harvesting time will be lost and they will take another hit in an already ailing industry.
“I’ll have watermen who won’t be able to feed their families,” said Ben Parks, president of the Dorchester County Seafood Harvesters Association and vice president of the Maryland Watermen’s Association. He said there are 100 families who he expects will be affected.
Parks estimates that with the Navy proposing to use the islands for 1,200 hours a year, watermen will lose another 50 days of work on the water in that region of the bay.
Elleen Kane, spokeswoman for the Naval Air Systems Command, which is behind the plan, said that the proposed hours would take place mainly during the winter, when fewer watermen will be affected.
Kane said that the Navy has had the rights to the islands since 1942, but it voluntarily ceased using them for military trials in 1996 when they islands fell under the direct jurisdiction of the Patuxent naval air base.
The military is under no obligation to hold the open comment meetings, but it wants the public’s opinions on the proposal, Kane said.
“We will certainly be working with them in this decision making process,” she said.
-30- CNS 03-04-05