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After more than three years since it was commissioned by the Calvert County Board of County Commissioners, the Cliff Stabilization Advisory Committee gave its final report during last week's BOCC meeting, where it presented 17 recommendations to the board on how to improve permitting processes, communication and more.

The board decided to send the report and recommendations to department heads for feedback on implementation. The committee, formed in November 2010 by the commissioners to help address challenges for those living along the county’s eroding cliffs, is made up of residents representing Chesapeake Bay shoreline communities and met monthly between January 2011 and June 2013.

The committee’s recommendations — stemming from presentations from experts and feedback from the community — included simplifying the permitting process, establishing and endorsing supportive policies, providing education, coordinating with other government agencies, supporting financing options and investing in long-term planning.

One of the suggestions of the 25-member committee is a point of contact within the county who is an expert in the requirements and permitting processes for the Chesapeake Bay critical area. Those living within the area have to get additional approvals for actions such as building additions and tree removal but also in order to preserve the eroding cliffs.

“The whole idea is to try to get one unified point of contact in the county,” said committee member Bill Brier, representing the Chesapeake Park community. “It’s a daunting process. It’s very repetitive.”

To preserve the cliff areas from erosion, homeowners must get approval from county, state and federal agencies. The cliffs erode an average of 2 feet per year, committee member Tom Cratty said in a phone interview Wednesday. It can take two to seven years to get all the necessary approvals, and all the while, the cliffs erode, he said, so simplifying and speeding permitting to hardscape the cliffs is essential.

Hardscaping involves placing rocks at the base of the cliffs where they meet the shoreline, said Cratty, who represents the Kenwood Beach community on the committee.

The committee also recommended the county explore having joint hearings so those applying for permits don’t have to go to multiple county hearings for the same thing and to simplify paperwork to cut down on the amount of repetition, said Ginger Haskell, chair of the advisory committee, at Tuesday’s meeting.

In addition, the committee emphasized community education and recommended future homeowners receive information on the requirements and restrictions of living within the critical area before they make an offer on a property.

When Brier bought his home 14 years ago, he didn’t know much about the critical area, he said. During a storm years ago, he lost a deck near the edge of the cliffs. He hasn’t yet had to deal with the lengthy permitting process to preserve the cliffs on his property.

He said in some cases, property values have dropped drastically because of how close homes are to the cliffs. Streamlining the permit process to preserve the cliffs also preserves property values.

This could be a crucial step for the 83 homes located within 20 feet of the cliffs. The committee requested the county use these homes as a starting point and conduct a site-specific analysis of these homes. The closer someone lives to the cliffs, the more important it is to be able to quickly secure permits to stabilize them, Brier said.

The report and recommendations will be sent to county departments, and the committee will continue its work, trying to present its findings to federal and state agencies. An additional difficulty for cliff stabilization is that the state prioritizes living shoreline rather than mechanical shoreline, according to the committee. Living shoreline preservation involves planting grasses where the shore gently slopes into the water, but this is not possible for cliff shoreline.

“This is not an issue that is ever going to go away,” Commissioner Gerald W. “Jerry” Clark (R), said, referring to cliff erosion. Clark said the county needs to set a deadline for receiving feedback from the departments.

County administrator Terry Shannon said departments including public works, community planning and building and finance and budget will be asked for feedback. Shannon hopes to receive responses from these departments within a few weeks, and work sessions at BOCC meetings will be scheduled depending on the departments’ feedback.

“We should be able to move forward with some of those fairly quickly,” Commissioner Susan Shaw (R) said Tuesday.

“Those of us who choose to buy property on the Chesapeake Bay love nature, or we wouldn’t be there,” Haskell said Tuesday. “So, we want to be good stewards of the environment, and we would like to see the county commissioners do everything you possibly can to be advocates for us.”

In other business, the commissioners:

• Made appointments to the Commission on Aging, the Huntingtown Architectural Review Committee, the Calvert County Family Network Board of Directors and several other committees and agencies;

• Directed the Calvert County Planning Commission to review text amendments to the Calvert County Comprehensive Solid Waste Management Plan, to which the state requires updates every two years; and

• Unanimously voted to schedule a public hearing for proposed county code amendments.

sfleischman@somdnews.com