CAMBRIDGE – A loose coalition of farmers, watermen, community groups and environmental activists launched an effort Thursday to stop a 3,200-home development from being built on 1,000 acres of farmland near the Blackwater Wildlife Refuge.
“These mega-developments are about the biggest enemy to a continued quality of life here on the Eastern Shore,” Fred Pomeroy , a Cambridge schoolteacher and part-time waterman who is also a member of Dorchester Citizens for Planned Growth, told a rally of about 30 people as the drive got underway.
The rally was held two miles south of Cambridge next to Maple Elementary School, across from a sweeping view of the agricultural land to be developed. The initiative is being led by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, which called the project “a critical test of how Maryland will develop its Eastern Shore, preserve its farmland and protect its natural resources.”
Some of the most significant concerns voiced about the project at the rally involve a request by the developer for more than 300 acres of the project to be built in a protective buffer zone, called the Critical Area, along the Little Blackwater River, land previously reserved for resource conservation.
The Little Blackwater River drains into the Blackwater Wildlife Refuge, and many of the project’s opponents are concerned that polluted runoff from the development will damage the refuge’s pristine wetlands.
The refuge is home to many species of water fowl, including what Bill Gise, a fire control officer there, says is “probably the largest eagle concentration north of Florida.” It is also home to the endangered fox squirrel.
“Bottom line: Why should we care?” asked Will Baker, president of the Bay Foundation. “It’s all about clean water. We’re funneling pollutants into our national wildlife refuges.”
Egypt Road LLC development group’s construction plans for the Blackwater Resort Communities project include 3,200 homes, a 100-room hotel and conference center, a retail center, and a public golf course.
Sandy McAllister, an attorney for developer Duane Zentgraf, of Egypt Road LLC, declined to discuss many opponents’ objections in detail. “It’s relatively easy to assert a concern,” he said, speaking generally. “It’s rather difficult to substantiate a basis for that concern.”
Egypt Road LLC has worked out an agreement with the county stating that they will provide “significant public contributions” if they are allowed to proceed with the development. These contributions include providing two school sites, upgrading area parks, water systems and sewer systems.
The Dorchester County Council has said the development will bring in $7.5 million of county property tax revenue annually.
At Thursday’s rally the Bay Foundation launched a petition asking the Ehrlich administration and Dorchester County officials to use any means at their disposal to stop the development.
The drive is important, according to a Bay Foundation press release, because citizens and community groups have been fighting the development for years, to no avail, and the Foundation wants to use all means at its disposal to help them stop the project.
Jeff Edgar, a Dorchester County farmer whose wheat, corn and beans farm, which has been in his family for six generations, borders the property on which the project is to be built, said he took part in the gathering because he thinks the developers have an unfair advantage.
“The squeaky wheel gets the grease,” he said. “If you got 500 against one, who’s going to win? I think the local guy’s going to be the second-hand citizen.”
The Dorchester County Council made the area part of the city of Cambridge in June 2004, according to Council records, and amended their Comprehensive Plan to designate the area as “Town-Adjoining Areas.” Before the change, the area was designated as “Development District, Natural Resources Area and Agricultural District”. Their changes made it possible, at the county level, for the development to be built in the Critical Area, but the project has yet to clear Cambridge city and Dorchester County Critical Area Protection Program hurdles in order to get final approval for the project.