Out and About (Sort of): Crab and Gabfest Could Come to an End by Howard Freedlander

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For 41 years the J. Millard Tawes Crab and Clam Bake has been a must-attend event in Crisfield for state politicians and people who like to be around them. The seafood, of course, is a draw, as long as you don’t mind eating crabs and clams under tents on black asphalt that radiates heat.

This iconic event attracts public officials and wannabees from throughout the state of Maryland; it’s become a rite of passage every summer. Temperatures invariably are hot, humid and horrid. Still, politicians and their backers flock to this most distant point on the Lower Eastern Shore.

Why I am writing about the Tawes crab and clam picnic when it receives more than ample media coverage?

My answer is simple, if not alarming. The town of Crisfield may cease to exist as we know it. The annual gathering may have to move upland.

A study produced by the Union of Concerned Scientists identified 167 communities in 13 coastal states that by 2025 will confront chronic rain surges, defined as when high tides flood 10 percent or more of a community’s usable, non-wetland area at least 26 times a year. Twenty-two of these communities are in our state, mostly on the Eastern Shore.

According to this study, Crisfield will face continual flooding of more than half its land area within about 20 years.

In a recent story on Channel 7 in Washington, DC, the reporter interviewed two women, one of whom runs the passenger ferries from Crisfield to Smith Island. She sounded downright pessimistic about the future of her business. Her dialect revealed that she was a Crisfield native who was envisioning not only the possible demise of her business but the severe disruption of her quality of life.

With this sort of rain-inundated future looming over Crisfield and other similar communities, real estate values could plummet. Residents could scatter to higher ground—and new lives.

As inevitable as coastal flooding appears to scientists and many others concerned about climate change and global warming, adaptation remains a viable, if not imperative response. With financial support state and federal agencies, communities have begun mapping flood plains, directing new development to less vulnerable areas and building buffers to minimize the imminent destruction and force of a surging ocean.

Armed with government funding, communities are taking an open-eyed approach to the impending danger of destructive flooding. They understand the impact on business development and real estate.

As I’ve written before, denial is not an option.

The Eastern Shore of Maryland is a special place. Opportunities exist now to adapt and prepare for a future that can and will change the character of a place like Crisfield. For example, as shown on the Channel 7 broadcast, a waterfront condominium building in Crisfield sits on concrete pilings—that’s just plain smart, while long-existing crab processing buildings face the water with no protection.

Though politicians and their supporters can go elsewhere for food, chatter and visibility, a 41-year-old tradition is worth retaining in Crisfield in mid-July every year. I hope that local civic and political leadership is plotting a future that somehow mitigates the impact of disabling flooding.

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Like many throughout our nation, I pray for U.S. Senator John McCain as he battles a pernicious brain cancer. He’s a tough guy who withstood five years of imprisonment and torture at the hands of the North Vietnamese during the Viet Nam War. He’s engaged in many political battles in our nation’s contentious Capitol.

I met Senator McCain once just prior to his speaking several years ago at my alma mater’s graduation ceremony. We exchanged very few words—though I was willing to talk more. Perhaps he was preoccupied. Perhaps I should have left him alone.

John McCain is a fervent patriot and outstanding public servant. He will continue to fight to survive.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

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