Chesapeake Bay access points playing role in Anne Arundel County executive race

Some happy, others concerned

ANNAPOLIS, Md. - Anne Arundel County Executive Laura Neuman said Friday she’s working to open up waterfront access at Thomas Point Park in Annapolis by the end of the month.

Her comments came two days after a meeting on public water access in the county, which has more than 500 miles of shoreline. A large chunk of that isn’t open to the general public.

RELATED: Groups fighting for more Chesapeake Bay recreational access points

“I think it’s simple—if you want people to take care of the bay, you have to make it easier for them to enjoy the bay,” Neuman said.

A representative of the Anne Arundel County Department of Recreation and Parks said at the meeting he was concerned there might not be enough staffing to increase access throughout the county, despite Neuman’s plans.

Chris Carroll, chief of park operations north for the county’s Department of Recreation and Parks, said Neuman has been having meetings on opening county beaches.

It’s “very exciting,” Carroll said at Wednesday’s meeting in Severna Park. But he added he wasn’t sure the department had the personnel to handle an influx of beachgoers.

“This is something that has me worried,” he said.  “I don’t want to see a bunch of people flocking to Mayo Beach if we aren’t prepared.”

Neuman said Friday she’s working closely with Recreation and Parks on how the office is structured to boost staffing so she can first open up Thomas Point-- where access is now restricted-- by the end of June.

“We are working on that as we speak,” Neuman said.

But before swimming is allowed, the county Health Department will first have to test the water quality at the beach.

Elin Jones, a Health Department spokeswoman, said Thomas Point is not yet part of the county’s Recreational Water Quality Monitoring Program. For a beach to be opened to swimming, Jones said the water would have to be sampled first.

Neuman, though, said she wants to first focus on opening the waterfront to beachgoers.

“That’s a different, but important, issue,” Neuman said of testing the water.  

Mike Lofton of Harwood, a member of the Anne Arundel County Water Access Committee, said he was happy to hear about Neuman’s plans. The group has identified a list of 30 to 40 spots in Anne Arundel where it would like to see public access to the water.

“There are no public beaches except for Sandy Point,” Lofton said. “And by mid-morning in the summer, it’s filled up.”

His group’s goal is to open water access on the north and south shores of all of the county’s rivers.

Lofton said he’s urging others to lobby county executive candidates and other candidates for public office on this issue.

“I don’t think water access is going to show up as a top 10 issue, but I think it is important,” Lofton said. “We’re all paying more to clean up the bay, so people should be able to benefit from it. I think that’s the key in the current political environment.”

What Lofton was referring to regarding paying more to clean up the bay is the controversial stormwater fee. Often dubbed the “rain tax” by conservatives, the stormwater fee has emerged as an issue in the Anne Arundel County executive’s race.

Neuman is being challenged in the Republican primary by Del. Steve Schuh, who voted for the state mandate in 2012 that ordered Maryland’s 10 largest counties pass a stormwater fee to help pay for water quality projects. 

He has criticized the fee levied in 2013 by the Anne Arundel County Council, however, saying it’s too high.

Neuman, who vetoed the stormwater fee only to have her veto overridden by the county council, has slammed Schuh for voting for the mandate in the first place.

Both Neuman and Schuh said they hear a lot of comments from Anne Arundel residents about the need for increased water access.

“The Chesapeake Bay is our most important access in Anne Arundel County,” said Schuh, who lives in Gibson Island. “And we have very limited public access.”

Schuh said he hears more from residents about the need for more public boat ramps, though. Construction on a $4.5 million public boat ramp at Fort Smallwood Park is expected to begin this year.

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