Not only is St. George Island sinking, the water all around us is rising.
This is old news. So old that the Maryland state government, through its Department of Natural Resources, has an agency now that tracks by how much. There's a website where you can make the calculations yourself, if you have the time and inclination to fiddle. http://shorelines.dnr.state.md.us/sc_online.asp
If you really delve you can discover how quickly your very piece of the rock -- probably not a rock anymore -- will disappear from view. My piece disappears somewhere between two and five feet -- that could be two feet sinking, three feet water rising or any combination thereof. Or maybe, actually, four feet will do it for me. It seems this isn't an exact science yet, the future and weather still having something to do with it.
It almost seemed at a meeting last month that we St. George Islanders were slow to the draw. News of the disappearing Chesapeake Bay islands is nearly passe'. "Saving an island in the Chesapeake Bay," Alex Roy of the Maryland Department of the Environment said glibly last month to a gathering of St. George Islanders, "everyone is trying to do it."
Indeed, it seemed everyone and their brother was around last month to help St. George Island start. Representatives from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Maryland Department of the Environment, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (three people from there), the Maryland State Highway Administration (two people from there), St. Mary's County Department of Public Works, a state delegate, a county commissioner and the president of the St. George Island Improvement Association met with about a dozen islanders to start the ball rolling to save St. George Island.
The meeting began with a lot of talk about how much more water sits on the land than has in past years, how much longer water stays around and how deep on the road and lawns the water reaches. Both rain water and tidal water.
The island includes 6.8 miles of shoreline -- not all of it eroding -- and is losing about 1.2 acres of land a year. The maps make this obvious to people who don't even live here. A lot of handouts were passed around confirming that indeed there is higher water, sinking land and less than perfectly maintained roads, waterways, ditches and bridges.
There was some more talk about why all of this has occurred. There were suggestions about which departments of government performing in different ways have caused or might be able to alleviate some of the problems. But as to the larger problem -- the island is sinking and the water is rising -- there were two immediate (so-called) proposals:
The state road people are going to make sure their roads aren't being undermined by the sinking and rising. If their roads are impacted they'll look for some money to make as quick of a fix as possible. Long term fixes weren't seen as particularly likely at this juncture. County road fixes consist of more asphalt and money is running low for even this.
Secondly, the Department of Natural Resources is poised -- if requested and when formal application is made -- to send planning and consulting type folks into the St. George Island community to facilitate and help St. George Islanders' "build a plan," explained Zoe Johnson with the climate change agency. The coming together to form a collective remedy to stave off tidal inundation has already begun in some Eastern Shore communities, she said. As Roy of MDE made clear, there are growing numbers of Chesapeake Bay communities facing erosion, rising tides, sinking land, evacuation and relocation.
So regardless of the proposals, there isn't exactly a solution to the problem. The goal of the planning effort is for citizens to agree on a fix and find a way to pay for it.
The Department of Natural Resources which coordinates both the climate agency and the citizen planning events is already involved with a number of other tidally-impacted communities around the Bay. Smith Island seems the most immediate. Apparently that plan has now moved into the Relocation Planning stage. The sinking and rising calculation for those folks is that they won't have any land left above water in 25 to 30 years.
Once a reporter it's hard to give up the cynicism. So forgive me, but if I were giving odds on these proposals resulting in action I'd start hoping there's something undermining the state road -- roads get funded. Plans, for the most part, just lead to arguments which lead to more plans.
But if I were an optimistic islander I might look again at the maps and note that my tiny hunk of the rock is colored in dark blue which suggests it will take two to five feet of sinking/rising to put my lot underwater. And the good news here -- the road to my house will go before two feet.
Maybe instead of meeting as a community to build a plan that looks destined to ultimately result in evacuation and relocation strategies we could just jump ahead of the game and start learning how to build boats.