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Commissioner Dan Morris (R) late last month said there are a lot of people in St. Mary’s County who live within 1,000 feet of tidal waters, and he questioned the reasoning behind state restrictions on development in that area.

Those lands in Maryland are called the Chesapeake Bay Critical Area.

During a budget amendment the county commissioners meeting March 26, Morris said, “The 1,000 [feet] was a settlement between a bunch of lawyers. And there’s no proof based on the people I’ve talked to in the state 1,000 feet is the number. I’d like to see the hard proof.”

Approximately 43,700 acres, or 18 percent, of land in St. Mary’s County is in the Chesapeake Bay Critical Area, and about 6,610 homes are on septic systems there, according to an analysis done by the St. Mary’s County Department of Land Use and Growth Management.

Maryland passed the Critical Area Act in 1984 to limit intense development near the waterfront to protect water quality. It was implemented in St. Mary’s in 1990.

“The Critical Area itself was negotiated between lawyers because they couldn’t decide the feet,” Morris said. “I love the Chesapeake Bay, but this whole thing is a guise.”

Phil Shire, director of the St. Mary’s County Department of Land Use and Growth Management, called it “an entrenched, unfunded mandate. It has been with us for a long time.”

“You pay more taxes for living along the water,” Morris said.

“This is a fractionally funded mandate,” said Commissioner Larry Jarboe (R).

The St. Mary’s County Zoning Ordinance includes a chapter on the Critical Area and local land-use staff are reimbursed by the state for some of their work. The March 26 budget amendment was $8,000 in state money for a portion of local staff time who review Critical Area permits and development applications.