(Jan. 3, 2020) Members of the public and local officials had the opportunity to express their opinions and advocate for their priorities on Friday, Dec. 20 at a meeting with Sen. Bill Ferguson (D-46), the presumptive incoming Maryland Senate president, at the Ocean City Marlin Club in West Ocean City. Ferguson is expected to replace Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller, who announced in November that he would resign from the position he held for 32 years due to health reasons.
Hosted by Sen. Mary Beth Carozza (R-38), the meeting drew representatives from local industries, such as tourism, health care, agriculture and commercial fishing, as well as officials from Somerset County, Worcester County and Wicomico County.
The session was part of a tour Ferguson had arranged of state districts to introduce himself to those areas’ legislators. But instead, Carozza used the opportunity to make the visit a community forum of sorts.
First to speak was Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan, who reminded Ferguson of the resort’s major economic impact on the state, and then sought to enlighten the senate leader’s understanding of two big challenges ahead – the unsanctioned car rally better known as H2Oi and the two proposed offshore wind farms.
He described to Ferguson how the H2Oi participants come to defy police and terrorize citizens.
“It’s become not only a challenge, but a critical situation,” Meehan said.
He cited the need the need to strengthen the state law that allows Ocean City to have special event zones. As for the wind turbines, Meehan reasserted his position that he supports the wind turbines, but not the significant increase in turbine size.
“I don’t want to be the mayor when looking back on five, 10 years, they ask ‘How did you let this happen?’” Meehan said.
Advocating for seasonal workers and J-1 student workers were Melanie Pursel, director of Greater Ocean City Chamber of Commerce, and Susan Jones, executive director of the Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association. Pursel pointed out that Ocean City has 12,000 seasonal workers with about 4,000 to 5,000 J-1 international students each season.
“Our businesses would be paralyzed without that program,” Pursel said.
Merrill Campbell, of Southern Connections Seafood, reiterated to Ferguson the need to fix the shoaling problem in the Ocean City Inlet and harbor. He mentioned that several boats have relocated, resulting in a major loss in revenue.
Citing their concerns about the next phase of the phosphorus management tool implementation were Delmarva Poultry Industry board of directors member Bill Massey, Worcester County Farm Bureau President Alan Hudson and Wicomico County poultry farm grower Michelle Chesnick. All speculated if phosphorus from chicken litter on fields actually runs off into the coastal bay.
“There needs to be a lot more science done to prove that the phosphorus management tool actually works,” Hudson said.
Frank Piorko, executive director of Maryland Coastal Bays, explained the importance of continuing to support their environmental monitoring sites that are always at risk due to budget concerns. He said that the health of the coastal bays directly influences tourism.
“As our climate weather changes, as our response to these things change, we’re going to need to commit to continuing the resources to monitor our coastal bays here in Maryland,” Piorko said.
Worcester County Commissioner Joseph Mitrecic explained two major challenges for the county – the fire sprinkler bill and the Kirwan Commission. Mitrecic said that because of the requirement that new home construction must have a sprinkler system, development in the county is hurting. Sussex County has 13 times as many building permits than Worcester, he said.
The Kirwan Commission, formally known as the Commission on Innovation in Education, proposes revamping Maryland’s public education, with Worcester County having to contribute the most of all Maryland counties, according to the proposed funding formula.
“Kirwan scares us to death,” Mitrecic said to Ferguson. “We look at it as an unfunded mandate.”
In closing statements, both Carozza and Ferguson pointed to the need for all the counties to work together.
“We do work together as partners here and try to have very coordinated strategies so when we come up to the legislature we’re trying to work with them in a powerful way and make sure that we’re prioritizing and also not only highlighting some challenges, but also some possible solutions to those challenges,” Carozza said.
Ferguson agreed and said that it was helpful to hear from everyone. He laughed as he told about how he grew up in a politically divided household - one parent supported President Bill Clinton, and another did not.
“There’s so much more that binds us together than what separates us,” Ferguson said.
The new Senate president, presumably Ferguson, is expected to be announced on Jan. 8, the first day of the 2020 Maryland General Assembly’s legislative session.
“Our best asset is people,” Ferguson said. “I think that’s proven even more today.”