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"Editor's Note:  The following was sent as a letter to the Q. A. Co. Commissioners"

The Chester River Association
The Custom House
101 South Water Street
Chestertown, MD. 21620

October 10th, 2002
The Honorable Commissioners of Queen Anne’s County
107 N. Liberty Street
Centreville, MD. 21627

Dear Commisioners:

Please accept the following comments on the proposed comprehensive revisions to Title 18 of the Queen Anne’s Code (the “Queen Anne’s County Zoning Ordinance and Subdivision Regulations”). 

As Chester Riverkeeper, my interest in these proposed regulations focuses on their potential impacts on the Chester River.  The Chester River is already listed by the State as “impaired”,. i.e. not supporting designated uses.  These designated uses - fishing and recreation - are of current and future economic value to Queen Anne’s County.  A healthy river provides direct and indirect benefit to County residents, both directly through recreational benefits and its support of commercial fishing, but also indirectly by providing an enhanced quality of life which can attract both tourist revenue and new businesses.   The Chester River, however, is not healthy - it is choking on sediment and nutrients washing into it as a result of unsustainable and inappropriate land use.  The proposed regulations not only do nothing to reverse the existing damage, they have the potential to further degrade water quality in the Chester River.   Rather than proceed with the proposed regulations, I urge the Commissioners to take a proactive approach to managing land use which recognizes the importance of a healthy Chester River to the daily lives and future economic prospects of County residents and which seeks to protect and restore water quality.

In order to protect and restore the Chester River and the resource-based economies in its watershed, the Commissioners need only follow one simple guideline:  preserve the natural resilience of the watershed by maintaining the fields, forests and wetlands.   Unfortunately, the proposed regulations will have the opposite effect, by reducing resource protection standards as follows:

1 Reducing buffer width from 300 feet to 100 feet, as proposed at 18-1-65,  will further reduce the land’s ability to filter out pollutants before they reach the water;

Allowing streams and their buffers to be disturbed as part of a stormwater management plan, as also proposed at 18-1-65, will speed up the flow of stormwater, increasing erosion and therefore sediment loads to the river; and

Reducing the requirement for on-site forest retention from 60% to 50%, proposed at 18-1-68, will further reduce natural filtering capacity.

In addition to weakened standards, proposed procedural changes risk further damage to the County’s natural resource base:

4  By allowing noncontiguous development (18-1-97 through 18-1-99) and failing to require that development rights be transferred only to receiving areas within designated growth areas 8-1-100), the proposal will allow for continued development of rural areas with attendant loss of natural filtering function;

2  Variances to the Forest Conservation Act will be allowed based solely on an applicant’s self-certification that a project will not impact water quality (18-2-21), creating a “fox guarding the chicken-house” situation; and

1  Title 18 lessens the likelihood that loss of forest filters will be mitigated by afforestation or reforestation projects.  Allowing applicants to pay fee-in-lieu (18-2-15) rather than conduct mitigation
themselves transfers to the County a burden to conduct mitigation projects which it lacks the administrative and technical resources to support.  Further, requiring that these payments revert to the applicant within two years will, given the County’s limited ability to conduct projects in this time-scale, effectively exempt applicants from all mitigation responsibilities.   The net effect will be further loss of filtering function.

In summary,  the proposed Title 18 will encourage continued degradation of water quality in the Chester River.  Not only will this impact the long-term cultural and fiscal health of the County, but it is in direct contradiction to the County’s expressed interest in maintaining the unique regional landscape, as expressed in its signature of the Eastern Shore 2010 agreement.  It is also contradictory to Federal and State interest in maintaining the health of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, as expressed in the Chesapeake Bay agreement and as demonstrated by the infusion of Federal and State dollars to protect the very resources which Title 18 so blithely disregards.

I encourage the Commissioners to post-pone action on the proposed regulations and to re-write them in a manner more consistent with the County’s long-term interests.


Eileen McLellan
Chester Riverkeeper

"Eileen L. McLellan, Ph.D., recently started her position as the Chester Riverkeeper."
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