Bill Would Transfer Bay Islands to DNR Ownership

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Posted January 28, 2019

OCEAN CITY — A bill introduced in the General Assembly last week could revert ownership of islands in the coastal bays watershed to the state for conservation purposes.

House Bill 54 was introduced last week at the request of the chair of the House Environment and Transportation Committee. If approved, the bill would transfer authority of any lands formed in the coastal bays in Worcester County by depositing material dredged from the Ocean City Inlet or other navigational channels in and around the resort area to the state’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

When the federal Army Corps of Engineers dredged the navigation channels around the resort a few years back, roughly 400,000 cubic yards of sand and dredged material was dedicated to restoring some of the islands in the coastal bays that hadn’t been seen on charts since the 1930s, including a roughly four-acre spit now known as Tern Island.

Restoring the islands accomplished the dual goals of finding a home for the tons of material dredged from the Inlet and the navigation channels, for example, while creating crucial habitat for endangered colonial nesting birds in the coastal bays. However, the relatively new islands became no man’s lands of sorts with access and use often called into question.

A conflict of interest quickly arose at Tern Island, for example, when hundreds of recreational boaters flocked to the newly created sandy spit, dropped anchor and waded ashore. At one point, Tern Island’s legacy as a retreat for legions of weekend recreational boaters was solidified when an American flag was installed on it.

With ownership of and public access to the sandy islands in question, Maryland Natural Resources Police (NRP) often looked the other way, uncertain of their enforcement authority. House Bill 54, introduced last week, would codify the authority of the DNR to own and maintain the sensitive islands, essentially cutting them off from use by the boating public.

“Any island created or formed within he confines of Sinepuxent, Isle of Wight or Chincoteague Bay by the dumping or depositing of excavated material from dredging or any other artificial means employed by the state or the United States or both during the construction or maintenance of the Ocean City Inlet and the channel in the bays are natural resources of the state and title to them is retained for the use of the department,” the bill reads.

However, a clause in the bill would leave the sandy islands in the coastal bays available to some segments of the public on a limited basis.

“The department may use the land for conservation purposes in the manner and under the regulations the department deems in the best interest of the state,” the bill reads. “However, any person who may lawfully hunt of fish in Worcester County may hunt of fish on these lands during the open season for hunting or fishing.”

Source: The Dispatch