An artist’s rendering of Mallows Bay by Vicki I. Marckel, whose art students have made a site a source of inspiration.
La Plata, MD – The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) held a public hearing in La Plata Tuesday, March 7 to get public comment on a proposed National Marine Sanctuary at Mallows Bay in western Charles County. Officials may have gotten more than they bargained for.
Despite assurances from NOAA facilitator Sammy Orlando that recreational and commercial fishermen would be unaffected by the proposal, commercial watermen turned out in droves, some driving an hour-and-a-half from Virginia, to hammer away in opposition at such a notion.
Orlando said that NOAA was considering four options for the sanctuary, from leaving the site alone to expanding the originally proposed 18-miles of shoreline to 68 miles. He explained that the agency is in the middle of the process of making the resting place of some 118 vessels, most of which date to World War I, the 14th such sanctuary in the country. The process still has a long way to go, he admitted.
“We are at least a year away after all of these public comments are over,” he said. “Overwhelmingly, people were in favor of a national marine sanctuary. There were some concerns and those things came out loud and clear. We heard loudly and clearly, do not mess with recreational and commercial fishermen. Also, don’t mess around with local land use planning. Don’t mess with recreational fossil hunting. In fact, we are not messing with recreational fossil hunting.”
When public comment began, the lid came screaming off Pandora’s Box.
Bonnie Morris, representing the Charles County Chamber of Commerce, said they felt they had been the victim of a “bait and switch” ploy by NOAA, who originally proposed 18 miles of public shoreline which swelled to 68 miles.
“An extension subverts and undermines the process,” Morris said.
Charles County Administrator Michael Mallinoff called the proposed sanctuary, “a golden opportunity for Charles County. We need to enhance our recreation and tourism opportunities. This proposal will bring jobs and will not affect fisheries.”
“I strongly supported the original designation,” said local resident Brian Klaus. “The expansion concerns me. I oppose any expansion as an assault on Maryland sovereignty. We want the designation all parties agreed to.”
“It’s an absurd waste of taxpayer money,” said David Lyons. “The emperor has no clothes.”
Bill Kilinski of the Charles County Waterman’s Association called the proposal “the old bait and switch. How can we trust NOAA that no commercial fisheries will be impacted?” he queried. “We have been burned before.”
Charles County Commissioners’ President Peter Murphy announced that the commissioners had voted earlier in the day for Alternative C, which would encompass a 52-miles of shoreline on the Potomac River.
Underwater Archaeologist and author Donald Shomette called the preserve a national treasure. He said the effort undertaken for World War I was considered “the greatest shipbuilding environment in history of the world.
“Here we have the largest concentration of such ships in the United States,” Shomette said. “Failure to designate this site would be a great American tragedy.”
Monica Shinneman said she couldn’t trust NOAA’s claim that commercial watermen won’t be affected by this proposal.
“I have yet to see it in writing,” she said.
She asked for those in the audience to stand if they were opposed and many did.
Potomac River waterman Richard Richey decried the measure.
“This is a way of life for us,” Richey noted. “I hear about the historical significance of the site. All of these rules are already in place to protect and preserve these things. There is access for everyone to go out there and kayak to do whatever. I’ll tell you like I tell myself, if you want to go out in Mallows Bay, it’s there. Just get on up every morning and go chase it.”
“Potomac River watermen all feel this is a waste of government money,” Kenny Pearson stated. “These ships have been there for almost 100 years. There’s nothing in this proposal that we can’t do now.”
“This is our livelihood,” said St. Mary’s County waterman Robert T. Brown. “Once it is designated a sanctuary you can never change that. The only thing it can do is get worse. I got to go with option A, none at all.”
“We don’t need this,” agreed waterman John Dean. “Everybody has access to it now. Please leave this alone.”
“They’re just junk,” Katie Stickell said. “It’s kind of stupid to be spending money on this.”
But former Calvert Marine Museum Director Ralph Eschelman took exception to that statement. “These are not just a bunch of junk,” Eschelman noted. “These are among the most significant maritime resources we have in the United States.”
“This sanctuary is a wonderful educational opportunity,” said Vicki I. Marckel, an artist and teacher whose students have collaborated on an exhibit about Mallows Bay.
“I support designation of the sanctuary and we support Alternative D,” said David Howe. “The bigger the better.”
“It isn’t just the waterman’s waterway,” said Ann Stark. “I understand your worry and concern.”
One speaker told the watermen he had been involved in the process since the beginning.
“I would not support anything that restricts your ability to fish,” he said. “There is no place like this anywhere in the country. Don’t just take my word for it.”
Contact Joseph Norris at email@example.com