Gilbert Bowling

Bowling

Charles County Commissioner Gilbert "BJ" Bowling III hosted his virtual town hall meeting on Jan. 7, discussing the Chesapeake Bay critical mapping area and the new resilience authority, along with their implications on the county.

Bowling (D) was joined by panelists from the county's department of planning and growth management, including Charles Rice, assistant chief of planning, planner Aimee Dailey and planner Beth Groth. Dailey discussed the history of the critical area, which is intended to protect the resources across the water area, with the maps updated every 12 years due to erosion or accretion.

Dailey said the state sent letters to landowners who were experiencing a change in the critical area boundary in October, and digital maps were available online for residents to see how much of their property is affected.

"Having digital maps and the ability to understand and tell people how much of their property is in the critical area will be helpful for landowners," Dailey said.

Bowling said that as the climate changes, so do the waterlines, which impact the landowner's properties. Bowling said the critical area is a filter to water leaving the land and entering additional waterways, so it is important to keep buffer area zones intact.

"They impact our environment, fish, oysters, it all goes into land preservation," Bowling said. "Those are the types of things people don't see immediately."

Rice said as new geographic information system data is passed down from the state, the county will be moving forward through the planning commission. Rice said the county added 200 acres of protected land in 2018 and almost 1,000 acres in 2019, a huge increase from previous years.

"We struggled to get 50-100 acres through that program previously, it's just a huge accomplishment," Rice said. "The county is eligible to apply for state funding through the department of natural resources to preserve property."

Rice said the department applied and was approved to expand the Zekiah watershed area, making additional land available for rural legacy grant funding. Rice said the planning commission is working with commissioners on expanding and designating new areas on the western side of the county for what would include Nanjemoy.

"The real focus is on the western side of the county, Charles is significant because it is the third most forested county in the state," Rice said.

"I can't express how important these programs are," Bowling said. "It really showed how these programs and the will of the people are important in keeping farms farms and woods woods."

Groth discussed the new county resilience authority and how the county has struggled to grapple with extreme weather in the past. Groth said that in 2018, 60 in. of rain fell in the county, the wettest year on record.

"The reality is flooding from frequent and more storms will occur more in the future," Groth said. "We have to take steps now to minimize the impact they cause."

Groth said planning for extreme precipitation, hail, tornados and nuisance and urban flooding would include fortifying critical buildings, hardening or burying power lines and establishing short and long term assets would be goals of the resilience authority. 

"We will start with drainage projects, first applying for state funding," Groth said. "The expectation is that in the future, this authority will expand and address other types of projects."

"We are really proud of the authority and folks we will have that will address stormwater management and climate change," Bowling said. "Commissioners are sharing commitment in the county moving forward, it will not go away and we need to take steps to address it."

Bowling also mentioned the efforts of the rural broadband task force in expanding access to high-speed internet in areas that are not densely populated. Bowling said the planning phases of the project are taking place and will expand broadband internet access to Nanjemoy and areas of Cobb Neck once complete.