(July 5, 2013) The long-awaited Bishopville Pond project moved a step closer to reality Tuesday when the Worcester County Commissioners approved landowner agreements with five property owners who will be affected by the work.
A sixth agreement was missing, but will be signed shortly.
The work will improve water quality and facilitate fish passage. The project will lower the steel cofferdam and create a stable stream channel and wetland habitat. It will have no effect on the existing tidal wetland delineation and will not expand the Critical Area boundary.
The project has been discussed for several years, but kept getting delayed for various reasons. One delay was the need to study whether proposed changes would have any detrimental effect on the bridge and road. Lack of funds was also a problem.
“We’ve been talking about it, it seems forever,” Ed Tudor, director of the Department of Development Review and Permitting, told the commissioners Tuesday.
Last October, a gathering of about 50 people at the Bishopville Fire Hall was told that the long-awaited project could be under construction before the end of that year.
The plan for the project calls for the stream to run under the bridge and into the pond. All metal sheeting will be removed from the dam, but the concrete foundation will remain and boulders will be added. A series of step pools and rock weirs will be constructed from the tidal segment of Buntings branch to the nontidal segment. A portion of the pond will remain upstream from the weirs and behind a sand berm constructed adjacent to the weirs.
The pond, now about five acres, will be reduced to about three acres.
Bishopville residents and fish are not the only ones to benefit from the project. Turtles, whose sole way to cross the road is to walk across it, frequently get run over. After the work is completed, the turtles will be able to go up to the pond without crossing the road.
The berms at the pond will not be publicly accessible, though they were in a much earlier version of the pond project. The 2002 plan called for the pond to be reduced to two acres, to be deepened to 8 or 10 feet and to be separated from two streams that would join to become one before going under the road and out to the river. People would have been able to walk between the ponds and the streams.
An even earlier version, discussed in 2001, would have added an adjustable gate to the so the pond’s water level would have been lowered during the downstream fish migration system. That version, however, would have produced a disagreeable odor while the submerged vegetation would be open to air when the water level dropped.
The signatures of the property owners on the agreements signed Tuesday were obtained by the Maryland Coastal Bays Program, which is coordinating the project, in cooperation with the funding agencies, the Maryland Department of the Environment and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
“Thanks to Maryland Coastal Bays for all their hard work,” said Bud Church, president of the county commissioners.
County attorney Sonny Bloxom reviewed the agreements, which were signed by Church, before being submitted to the Board of Public Works for final state approval of the tidal wetlands license.
During a meeting last year, Bloxom said the county considers the owners of the contiguous property to be the rightful property owners of the pond bottom.