Today I came across a letter to the editor in the Daily Times. In it, the writer noted many of the struggles she’s gone through to get her site plan approved with the county and state, simply because she lives in an area adjacent to the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge.
The point of her letter was to ask why a homeowner can be held to a stricter standard than a developer. And she’s right…not because the developer should be held to a stricter standard, but because she should be held to a less onerous one. What she describes in her letter is absolute overkill on the part of Dorchester County and the state of Maryland.
She notes that her father, a onetime state senator, would oppose the proposed development. Therein lies the rub with me.
Although I’m ambivalent about the golf course (there’s plenty to choose from here and participation in golf seems to be on a decline) the idea of Cambridge and Dorchester County getting a shot in the arm with an influx of 3200 new homes has its appeal. I want to live in an area that people want to come to and make it their home. And these people would likely help out the city of Cambridge by creating new jobs for non-development residents, everything from the initial construction to the service and professional needs of the additional people. That creates a spinoff effect.
The same goes for the Summerfield subdivision planned for Snow Hill, which would create more than a thousand new residences over a multiyear period. I honestly believe that the additional growth would be good for the Eastern Shore. We’re not going to turn into the I-95 corridor overnight, contrary to what many believe. There’s always going to be open spaces, simply because not all of the land can be developed as it’s situated in lowlying areas.
But back to the BNWR, which, according to its website, has 500,000 visitors a year. Since the admission to the refuge for all intents and purposes is $3 (some get in for less and people can get multivisit passes), that means the impact on the area from admissions alone is $1.5 million. I’ll estimate that once overnight stays and meals that are consumed by out of area tourists are factored in, the impact could reach $5 million a year.
We all know that, once a piece of land becomes Federal property, it’s pretty much going to stay that way, particularly if it’s a natural refuge. (But if it were a military base, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation would be all for the military leaving.) So the BNWR will remain regardless of this development, and most of its 27,000 acres (by my calculations that is 42 square miles) will exhibit little if any effect. I see little chance of a drop in tourism there.
So the $5 million impact will continue (maybe it’ll drop to $4.5 million the first couple years until people realize that the development did little harm.) As an aside, this development may even be somewhat better for the environment since who knows what runoff occurs from the farmland that’s there now. Many’s the time in the spring in these parts that you catch a whiff of “natural” fertilizer. Moreover, additional tax revenue will come in from improved property values, and newly created jobs to cater to the added population. Yes, some will be offset by additional expenditures incurred for more government services like police, fire, and schools; but on balance the area should benefit while losing little of what it has now.
This leads me to an extremely short-sighted comment by gubertorial candidate Martin O’Malley, who is the current mayor of Baltimore. In a recent campaign stop in Caroline County, O’Malley claimed that it was cuts in state aid that were spurring development (hat tip: Delmarva Dealings.)
For one thing, what does O’Malley know about growth, considering Baltimore is losing population? Secondly, putting local governments in a position to depend on handouts from the state rather than trying to prosper through growth results in the same thing that always happens when there’s too much dependence on government: stagnation. Someday the spigot stops and towns are left to their own devices. To me, Cambridge is trying to break that cycle and should be commended for seeking a private-sector solution.
If the state of Maryland is going to use Blackwater as a poster child for a push to restrict growth, it’s someday going to end up in the same boat as many of the other “blue states” (and even red ones) that are losing population because of a declining local economy. Investment in development should be encouraged, not shunned. Sadly, the Democrats in Maryland, with their fringe environmentalist allies in this case, are throwing up more roadblocks to progress than is good for the people of this area.