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Committee worries about loss of trees

By Cindy Hoffman, Staff Writer

(Feb. 2, 2023) The Environment and Natural Assets Committee met on Jan. 25 with a full roster of projects to pursue for the year.

 “It has been brought to our attention that too many healthy trees are being removed in our community,” Committee Chair Sharon Santacroce said. “We hope to educate residents as to the important role trees play in our environment as well as take a close look at the permitting process.”

Some residents have cut down all of their trees, even healthy ones. Many new home sites are clear-cut in preparation for construction, a process some members of the committee did not believe occurred historically.

According to the Ocean Pines website, the objective of the Compliance, Permits and Inspections Department (CPI) is to preserve the natural beauty and setting of Ocean Pines and to prevent indiscriminate clearing of property, removal of trees, and earth moving. Permits are required for the removal of any tree six inches in diameter or larger. According to the permit application, a permit can be rejected because a tree is “live” or “appears healthy.”

Committee member Tim Peck will be looking into the permit process for tree removal in Ocean Pines. The committee hopes to understand and become involved in the process of tree removal.

Where there are trees, there are leaves. Leaf disposal is a task that most Ocean Pines residents are familiar with. The committee is concerned that many residents use plastic bags to collect and dispose of their leaves. According to a study on the Degradation Rates of Plastics in the Environment, it can take up to 1,000 years for a plastic bag to degrade in a landfill.

Unfortunately, they don’t break down completely. Instead, they photo-degrade, becoming microplastics that absorb toxins and continue to pollute the environment. The committee plans to explore this issue further at their February meeting.

The committee also discussed the issue of residents blowing leaves and grass clippings into the canal.  While people may think there is no harm in doing this, when yard waste, grass clippings, and leaves are put in the canals, they begin to decompose and use up the critical, life-giving oxygen in the water.

According to a Green Street article published by the committee in 2021, “The water can also become unsightly and release a foul odor. Yard waste can “super-fertilize” the water and lead to algae blooms and fish kills. Over time, that area of water may become a hypoxia zone (a place where no other organisms can survive because of extremely low dissolved oxygen levels).”

There was also a discussion about using fertilizer on lawns, which leeches right into the waterways. The committee discussed ways to educate residents on these various issues.

One way that residents who live on the canals can help with the environment is to grow oysters. Karen Baldwin, the newly elected member of the committee, is an oyster farmer. Baldwin said, “Oysters do a great job of taking impurities out of the water. If we could get every full time [canal] resident to raise oysters, it would make a huge difference.”

Protectors of the St. Martin River and the Maryland Coastal Bays Program are working in partnership with residents to raise oysters in the area and create an oyster reef off the coast of Isle of Wight.

The Marine Committee has been engaged with both organizations, so Santacroce hopes to work with that committee to encourage oyster gardening in Ocean Pines.

Other ways that residents can help protect the environment include simple acts like picking up trash. Member Pat Garcia raised the idea of promoting “plogging,” the Swedish fitness trend of running while picking up litter. Santacroce and other committee members said they bring a bag with them when they walk around the ponds to collect litter. Garcia said, “It’s an easy thing to do and can help with our plastic pollution.”

The biggest issue addressed during the meeting was the issue of the resident duck and goose population.

Although Ocean Pines residents are familiar with the local goose population, nonresidents might not be aware of these regular travelers on the roads. Last August, a few of the local geese were run over by a car and a local mom and her kids witnessed it. The committee is exploring opportunities to place signs at frequent crossings so that drivers are aware of the geese. Weighted sandwich boards are being priced out and the committee requested funding in the 2023 budget for these signs.

While the committee members want to make sure the ducks and geese are safe, they are concerned about the expanding population of geese. To that end, they invited John Phelps, senior business development consultant and environmental scientist at SOLitude Lake Management to talk to them about the use of a material called SOX, an interlocking fabric material that can be installed around a pond perimeter to stop erosion.

The material can be punctured for plants. Aquatic plants can also be planted in the littoral zone (the shallow shoreline) in front of the SOX perimeter. The goal of using SOX is to ease erosion issues around the south pond and build up a thick buffer of plants to keep geese from nesting there.

Representatives from the Anglers Club came to hear the presentation and request that fish habitat be protected if this project moves forward. Ocean Pines Association Chair Doug Parks and Director Steve Jacobs also listened to the presentation. The committee asked for funds in the 2023 budget for erosion control and vegetation buffer zone around the south pond. Phelps visited the pond with Santacroce after the meeting and is preparing cost estimates for the most eroded areas.

The Environment Committee meets on the fourth Wednesday of every month and welcomes guests.