Bay Crossing Study Stalled? by Janet Christensen-Lewis

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Spring ended with the solstice on June 21, but the promised Maryland Transportation Authority (MDTA) public meeting on a Bay Crossing has not materialized.

Since rescinding an announcement of “open house” style meetings for the winter of 2019 (itself a delay from the original plan for such meetings by the close of 2018), MDTA asked the public to watch for such meetings in the spring of 2019. The excuse we were given for not meeting the winter deadline was the federal government shutdown, which did not allow federal staff to participate in meetings.

Now, the current notice on BayCrossingStudy.com states only: “Please check back here for upcoming Public Open House dates and times.” There are no explanations for the further delay.

This significant delay, currently more than six months, raises two grave concerns. First, exactly how transparent is this public process? How are we, the public, supposed to interpret this delay? It seems to us that the MDTA is totally disregarding its obligation to provide the public with real information about what is happening on this important and controversial project.

Second, this delay is robbing the public of time to consider critical information and participate adequately in the next phase of the process. A delay of this magnitude should be reflected in a comparable modification of the overall schedule and deadline, extending the close of the process.

MDTA was given five million taxpayer dollars to conduct a study required under the National Environmental Protection Act for the project. Were these wasted dollars on an agency that is unable to conduct a professional and transparent study? One of the primary responsibilities stated in the Coordination Plan for agencies conducting these reviews is public input. Another important aspect of their work is to implement consultation on historic resources in accordance with the National Historic Preservation Act, known as the Section 106 process. Neither of these is happening. Unless there is a change in the scheduling they will be shortchanged. Of particular concern would be that the Section 106 process will be foreshortened in a way that is unsuited to the sensitive and important historic resources across the Eastern Shore that could be affected by a new Chesapeake crossing.

There seems to be a great deal of chaos at MDTA. First a map showing 14 potential corridors for Bay crossing turned out to be leaked “pre-decisional” maps that were for internal use and not meant to be shared with the public. This was followed by the abrupt unexplained departure of Kevin Reigrut, the head of MDTA’s 1,700-employee agency. His replacement, James F. Ports, Jr., formerly Maryland’s Deputy Transportation Secretary, was appointed in June. Coupled with the unexplained missed deadlines there is the appearance that this agency is unable to get its house in order. This track record is not reassuring when the agency is tackling a decision on what will be an extraordinary expense for Maryland residents, a potential scar on the Chesapeake Bay, and could result in a profound alteration of the culture and landscape of the Eastern Shore.

We deserve an explanation of why dates in the schedule have effectively been changed to TBD, why the Coordination Plan has not been updated and extended to reflect delays in the scheduling, when the Section 106 consultation process is going to happen, and where MDTA currently stands in its obligation to bring forward the Corridor Alternatives Retained for Analysis for public participation. As the situation is now, MDTA is operating in its own bubble and the public is completely excluded from the conversation.

Kent Conservation and Preservation Alliance has tried communicating with project coordinator Heather Lowe at MDTA to no avail. We have written to Senator Hershey and Delegate Jacobs for help in getting some answers to our questions about this project and holding the agency to its responsibility to be open and transparent. Mr. Ports, copied on the letter sent to our State representatives, has replied: “I appreciate hearing from you and as the newly appointed Executive Director, I’m sure you can imagine that I have quite a few issues to follow up on. I will look into this issue and as soon as I can garner the information about this request, I will do my best to inform you and the public at large.” We will have to take him at his word but are mindful that this is only a promise that has been made by an agency that has failed repeatedly to answer questions that we and the residents of Kent County have posed.

You will not be asked to “check back with us” as MDTA has done, KCPA will publicly release any information received in real time.

Janet Christensen-Lewis, Chair

Board of Directors

Kent Conservation and Preservation Alliance

Kentalliance.org

 

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