By Greg Ellison
(Nov. 14, 2019) While funding remains uncertain, Ocean Pines Association officials are looking at working with the Maryland Coastal Bays Program to secure state grants to address long-term watershed protection efforts.
Last week, OPA President Doug Parks, Operations Director Colby Phillips and board member Tom Janasek, who previously chaired the OP Environmental & Natural Assets Committee, met with a consultant recently hired by the coastal bays program to identify the highest priority projects to improve water quality in Worcester County.
Janasek said the objective is securing grants available through the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
“They give out money to the Chesapeake Bay all the time and we want to get some funding on [this part of] the Eastern Shore,” he said.
Phillips said the coastal bays program recently retained the services of Bryan Seipp, a watershed manager from the Center for Watershed Protection, who met with the OP leaders last Thursday.
“He did a presentation for us [but] it’s not something that’s going to happen overnight,” she said. “This is more of a marathon than a sprint.”
Janasek said the coastal bays program was able to secure funds through the DNR, which helped finance hiring Seipp to investigate clean water issues in the county.
“He’s going to go through and evaluate the different areas within Worcester County that need the most help [and] where the money would be funded the best,” he said. “Obviously, we think its Ocean Pines.”
While conversations about future state funding are still in the initial stages, Phillips said the current drainage study underway by Vista Engineering seeking solutions to longstanding drainage problems in Ocean Pines would likely yield relevant data for the larger effort.
“We’re taking the steps … to hopefully improve things,” she said. “There’s a lot of people who are very passionate about doing everything we can to make our drainage issues better.”
Janasek said the results of Vista Engineering’s study, while focused on internal infrastructure challenges, could lead to improving water quality in the wider region.
“We’re putting together information and … doing field studies in the Pines to work on our drainage issues, so the water that runs out … isn’t polluted when it ends up in the St. Martin River,” he said.
Janasek said Ocean Pines could work with Seipp to ascertain methods to improve drainage in flood-prone neighborhoods, which would be designed to reduce the introduction of unfiltered pollutants into the coastal bays watershed.
“There’s a ton of different things that we can do,” he said. “There’s floating wetlands in the canals [and] there’s tiered step systems.”
Favorable topography is another issue weighing in the Pines advantage, Janasek said.
“We have the mass area to do it in Ocean Pines, whereas say Ocean City doesn’t have the area to develop any more filtration systems,” he said. “They just don’t have the ground.”
As for the next steps that might be taken, Janasek said the coastal bays program and Seipp are soliciting suggestions for water quality improvement initiatives from across Worcester County.
“From Ocean City to West Ocean City, to the farmers to Ocean Pines, obviously,” he said. “They’re going to put together a project list and he’s going to pick the top three … to send forward to DNR to either fund one completely or all three partially.”
Janasek said although other funding streams exist for improving water quality, the DNR grant opportunities are substantial.
“The main thing is we’re partnering very closely with Maryland Coastal Bays and they’ve been getting grants for years and years,” he said. “They’ve got that system set in stone and they know what they’re doing.”
While funding is hardly guaranteed, the emerging developments could prove substantial to reduce pollutant levels in area waterways, most immediately the St. Martin River, Phillips said.
“You’re seeing all these potential partnerships come together to try and tackle this very serious issue that we have on the Eastern Shore but specifically in Ocean Pines,” she said. “It’s a positive all around.”
While slight reductions to pollutant levels in the St. Martin River have been noted in recent years, massive improvements are still required, which is a primary motivator for coastal bays program officials to foster a partnership with Ocean Pines, Janasek said.
“They’re looking to help us as much as possible with … the Pines being the biggest community in Worcester County, other than Ocean City in the summer,” he said. “With our [drainage] issues that we have and the St. Martin River being one of the dirtiest watersheds on the East Coast, it’s a great opportunity.”
Recognizing that watershed pollution concerns exists outside the Ocean Pines area, Janasek said another benefit to forming partnerships to find financing is reducing cost for residents.
“Hopefully, we can do it and help ourselves with a little bit of our drainage issue and fund some of it through grants rather than assessments,” he said.