Leonardtown, MD – Tuesday evening, Aug. 28 at 6:30 p.m. the St. Mary’s County commissioners held a public hearing on a proposed ordinance that would impose an eighteen-month moratorium on all new Department of Natural Resources (DNR) aquaculture leases.

The commissioners’ meeting room in the Chesapeake Building was at capacity with many of those in attendance approaching the podium. As both sides of the aisle —individuals who support the moratorium and those against—articulated their thoughts and concerns each speaker was calm in their demeanor and civil in their discourse. A variety of backgrounds were on display through the speakers, including concerned watermen and aquaculture-based business owners, distraught waterfront property owners, representatives from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, and even a representative from the East Coast Shellfish Association from across the bay in Dorchester County, all expressing their views.

At the conclusion of the over two-hour hearing Commissioner John O’Connor [R – District 3] (pictured, right) acknowledged the ordinance as more of a means to get the conversation started and get the DNR listening to the citizens of St. Mary’s County. O’Connor called out the state and Maryland Secretary of Natural Resources Mark J. Belton when he asserted, “What I think we can all agree on here is that the Department of Natural Resources is the issue. DNR didn’t listen to St. Mary’s citizens, they failed us. Secretary Belton didn’t listen; he’s failing us. And the general assembly and senate failed us. So we are sitting here, having this discussion, because of the failures of the people at the state to listen to everybody that is involved.”

Commissioners’ President Randy Guy [R] echoed a similar sentiment when he elaborated on the state’s Tiger Team where they learned, “that the law was already written by the legislatures,” and that the waterways in Maryland are under state jurisdiction. Guy also explained that when he spoke to former county commissioners, they stated they had not been informed of the law when it passed nine years ago.

The message of both commissioners is that there is a compromise solution that they will work to meet for the county and that the fight needs to continue up to Annapolis to see real change. O’Connor finished his address stating, “These water columns are gonna happen whether this passes or not.” O’Connor then called all those in attendance to action. He expressed that, if he can, he’ll bus everyone up to Annapolis and “see Secretary Belton.” He then implored the audience not to “lose this momentum,” stating, “we’re here to represent you, and I guarantee you the people sitting at this table and those that aren’t are gonna continue to represent all of you and every single aspect of what you brought forward here now. It’s frustrating, but we will work this out appropriately with a proper balance. I loved everything I heard here tonight.”

The ordinance is open to public comment for seven days after the public hearing. Send all comments to the county commissioner’s P.O. Box at, 653, Leonardtown, MD 20650.

Contact Jerold Massie at staffwriter@thebaynet.com.