billy birch

Billy Birch

(Oct. 9, 2020) After a month-and-a-half delay, the Worcester County Commissioners have approved the county’s 2020 hazard mitigation plan.

The plan establishes what the county will do to protect itself from natural disasters and now to respond should it suffer from one. It also qualifies the county for disaster aid from the federal emergency management agency and the Maryland emergency management agency.

The plan was initially delayed on Aug. 18 after questions from commissioners went unanswered, and it was delayed again on Sept. 22 after commissioners felt they didn’t have enough time to review the revised plan.

County Commissioner Chip Bertino repeated an earlier concern that the plan references the Paris Climate Agreement, which the United States decided to leave in 2017.

Billy Birch, director of emergency services, said that it could not be removed because the United States will not be officially out of the agreement until Nov. 1.

This is an update to a previous plan that had it in there,” Birch said.

County Commissioner Jim Bunting voiced two concerns in the plan - reducing the number of houses in the floodplain and using the term “sea level rise” in regards to St. Martin’s Neck Road. “I think that’s infringing on property owner’s rights,” Bunting said. “If they have a house in an area and it gets flooded and they have to fix that, that’s their problem.”

As for the road, Bunting disagreed that “sea level rise” was the appropriate term.

They just didn’t build them high enough,” Bunting said. “They’ve been flooded during storms for 50 years. The marsh has not changed.”

Birch said those revisions could be made, but that would mean accepting the plan would be delayed for a third time.

The longer Worcester delays the plan, the longer it is ineligible for disaster planning grants, though it would still be eligible for individual assistance after a disaster strikes.

Although Bunting asked the commissioners to respect his request, the group went ahead with a 4-3 vote, with County Commissioners Ted Elder, Bunting and Bertino in opposition.

Elizabeth covers Worcester County issues for Ocean City Today. In 2018, she graduated from Luther College in Decorah, Iowa with a bachelor of arts. After graduation, Elizabeth spent a year with Lutheran Volunteer Corps in Wilmington, Delaware.

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