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The Charles County commissioners received a briefing Tuesday morning from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials saying Mallows Bay will have a good chance of nomination as a national marine sanctuary.

If approved for sanctuary status, Mallows Bay would be the only sanctuary in the Washington, D.C., region.

“I am pleased to report that there has been positive development since January 2011,” said Samuel P. Orlando Jr., chief of the conservation science division with the Office of National Marine Sanctuary. The positive development favors nomination of Mallows Bay.

The bay is on the Potomac River and is the site where hundreds of World War I-era surplus wooden boats were sunk to dispose of them. The wrecks now host a variety of wildlife and plants.

Orlando gave the commissioners a review of the history of sanctuaries by saying that he wants to leave them with one thought: “Special places count.”

The sanctuary system began in 1962 and currently has 14 sanctuaries in the United States. The first sanctuary, Orlando said, was the USS Monitor, a Civil War ironclad ship sunk off the coast of North Carolina. The system contains 47 vessels, seven visitor centers and eight major exhibits, 14 field sites, four regional offices and the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation.

Orlando said “no two [sanctuaries] are alike.”

“It’s the way the community comes together to define why the place is special and to participate in programs that support local conservation and use objectives,” Orlando said.

Conservation is a part of the sanctuary program, as well as education and outreach, Orlando said. The intent of the sanctuary system is also to sustain local economies and communities. Local coastal and ocean-dependent communities see $4 billion generated annually.

Orlando said he wanted to emphasise that the process for community-based nominations does not have full federal funding. But he believes that it is closer to funding than two years ago.

A draft rule was submitted for public comment between June 28 and Aug. 27 to re-establish the nomination process for sanctuaries, Orlando said. The draft received almost 19,000 comments, including comments from 26 Senate and House representatives, which will be considered along with any other changes before the final draft rule is published. He said the comments were “overwhelmingly positive.” Orlando said a timeframe for when the final draft rule will be published is uncertain.

“But, of course, we’re sitting here today because we’re hopeful it will be [published],” Orlando said, adding that reopening the sanctuary nomination process will make it possible for localities such as Charles County to submit areas for sanctuary status.

Mallows Bay in Nanjemoy provides kayak launches, fishing and hiking for the community, Orlando said.

Orlando showed the commissioners a letter of support from U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and U.S. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md., 5th) and said letters of support also have been received from Del. Peter F. Murphy (D-Charles) and the Chesapeake Conservancy.

“We’re very encouraged by this local support,” Orlando said.

Charles County Commissioner Ken Robinson (D) asked about Mallows Bay’s odds of being nominated for sanctuary status if other areas have submitted applications for nomination.

Orlando said other areas currently do not have applications submitted for nomination.

“Just to be included with these well-known natural assets that have already been designated as sanctuaries ... is an incredible compliment to the county,” Robinson said.

Commissioners’ Vice President Reuben B. Collins II (D) said he has lived most of his life in Charles County and recently had the opportunity to visit Mallows Bay and “saw the beauty.” He said for Mallows Bay to be federally recognized is “extremely important and will create great dividends for the county in the future.”

Orlando said he visited the day before and stood on the shoreline and was “in awe” of Mallows Bay.

Commissioner Debra M. Davis (D) asked if Orlando was not only proposing a designation for conservation but also economic revitalization. Orlando said economic revitalization is possible with the designation.

Davis asked if the commissioners could do anything to further the process, and Orlando said they could continue to keep track of the status of the nomination process.

Peyton Robertson, director of NOAA’s Chesapeake Bay office in Annapolis, said the opportunity is “exciting in terms of how [Mallows Bay] connects with a lot of other things that are going on” in the region.

rbarnabi@somdnews.com