This is the question and comment I hear as I grocery shop, go to work out, or just shop on a weekly basis. It's usually someone who does not live in our town but who lives in our county and visits the town.
As I explain to them the insanity of the Oxford Strand Shoreline Restoration Project, they ask me, "Who approved that?"
Of course, I have to go through the names of the major players in the project and the timeline for its implementation.
Then they say, "They must be crazy to allow that. The Strand was so beautiful and now it looks like a trainwreck." I share with them that "sea grasses" will be planted later. They look at me and say, "That's even worse."
It would be easy to blame everyone who voted for the "restoration." But then, as you look over the rationale given for it from the Town Office, you see how the wool could have been pulled over peoples' eyes. Maybe Commissioners should have done more research. Maybe citizens should have been more vigilant. Maybe they should have asked for more clarification. Maybe they should have understood that they were being sold the proverbial "bill of goods."
Here is a portion of the minutes from 1/23/18:
Administrator Lewis explained she was requesting a letter of interest to apply for design funds for green
infrastructure for the town’s shoreline areas, to include the Strand, the parking lot off the Strand, Lovers
Lane beach, and all of the town’s street ends, which potentially could use some green infrastructure to
improve resiliency and reduce erosion. Most all of the town’s street ends have hardscapes on either side of them so they are susceptible to erosion. A design would look at all the elements. The plan would be
to look at the design in two phases. Phase 1 would be the Strand and Strand parking lot, and Phase II
would be Lovers Lane beach and the street ends. Even though no one knows what the best design would
be right now, what is known is that the Strand is a historic beach and would need to be preserved as a
sandy beach and the parking lot is used as a kayak access, but something is needed to add resiliency to
the beach and protect the street and parking lot infrastructure. Lewis added that the National Wildlife
Federation is looking for a community to collaborate with on a project in applying to the grant program, as the NWF is expanding their work on the preservation of shorelines and the use of green as opposed to gray infrastructure.
The bolded section of these comments show that while Lewis claimed she wanted to preserve sections of the town from erosion, the approach from the National Wildlife Federation was what compelled the town to implement the latest project on the Strand. She even said no one knew what the best approach would be.
Was the NWF having problems selling "green infrastructure" to communities? Did they need community guinea pigs? How did they decide on Oxford? After all, it seems that if green infrastructure was so great, many Eastern Shore towns would have jumped at the opportunity. Did other towns know something about green infrastructure that the administration of Oxford didn't know (or knew and ignored)? Did the administration of Oxford just want the money regardless of the result of the project?
Or did they want to jump on board with something "new and innovative" rather than something tried and true that would actually preserve the beauty of the historic Strand?
Did they think taking on this project would get them more money later? Or maybe publicity?
A recent article by the Bay Journal shows how the effectiveness of "green infrastructure" to prevent erosion and flooding is not settled science. Like so many other "green" projects (wind turbines, solar panels/cells (Solyndra, Abound, Calisolar, Fiskar etc.) it appears that the Living Shorelines are being oversold as the complete answer for shore protection which they are not.
In Oxford's case, the project may not only be ineffective, but destructive to what is a historic landmark for the town.
The article by the Bay Journal reminds us of a salesman trying to sell an expensive EV truck instead of a more practical diesel model to a rancher. Every tepid selling point is paired with a counterpoint that destroys it.
If one does a deep reading of the article, it actually exposes several misrepresentations made by the those pushing the "living shoreline" project as a viable option for the Oxford Strand.
Misrepresentation #1 - The Oxford Strand Shoreline Restoration Project will prevent flooding on the Strand. Nowhere in the article is a "living shoreline" credited or even mentioned as preventing or abating floods anywhere. The author never talks about flooding at all. In fact, the most heralded benefits to living shorelines are the development of more marshland and diverse populations of fish. Marshes created in town, as we have seen in many parts of Oxford, HOLD water and keep it from flowing out with the tide. In a recent flood, a resident of Oxford noted that the berm created by the living shorelines project kept the flood waters on the road instead of letting them drain.
In other parts of town where marshes have been planted, the same problem exists. The water from flooding stays there for days while other areas drain much quicker. In the summer, these marshes breed mosquitos.
Misrepresentation #2- The Oxford Strand Shoreline Restoration Project and other "soft" infrastructure projects are the ONLY projects the State of Maryland will approve for shoreline protection. Not true. The article says that the Maryland Department of Environment approves permits for bulkhead or revetment structures, particularly where they already exist, such as in Oxford. As previously said, the current project in Oxford was proposed and sold to the town by the National Fish and Wildlife Federation to promote a restoration project that many towns don't want to attempt. The Department of Natural Resources only jumped on board after Oxford accepted the agreement from the NWF. If those planning the project in town had wanted to preserve the historic shoreline with a bulkhead (gray infrastructure), they probably would have gotten funding. From the article:
MDE automatically grants waivers for any proposed bulkhead or revetment where some kind of hardened shoreline stabilization structure already exists. When those are factored in, the agency approves more permits for bulkheads and revetments than for living shorelines.
Oxford already had hardened shoreline stabilization in place.
Why would the Maryland Department of Environment approve hard infrastructure if they thought living shorelines were much more effective?
Misrepresentation #3-The "Living Shoreline" method is a more effective manner of shoreline preservation. The very title of the Bay Journal article belies this statement. The author says people don't understand "living shorelines" and how well they work. However, many people who DO understand what living shorelines do tout the practice as being comparable to hardline structures, not better, at preserving land from erosion under certain conditions. They say that the one thing living shorelines might do better is preserve fish and wildlife habitat and create marshy areas. The stated point of the Strand Shoreline Project is not to preserve wildlife habitat or create a marsh. It's supposed to protect sand on a beach and a nearby roadway from washing away.
In fact, that last time there was "wildlife" on the Strand (a flock of ducks), the town had to remove it because with the wildlife came rats and people complained.
Do the people of Oxford want a marsh on the Strand? Doubtful. From the article:
“There’s a lot of work to do to convince people that living shorelines are providing comparable protection as armoring,” said Donna Bilkovic, a marine ecologist at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science Center for Coastal Resources Management. Even people who install living shorelines often think bulkheads and revetments provide superior protection, she noted."
One wonders why this is such a hard sell if it works so well? Wouldn't people be flocking to take advantage of this strategy if it was that good?
Misrepresentation #4- "Many other municipalities are using living shorelines to protect land from eroding." It seems that it's just the opposite as most urban and developed areas prefer hardline armoring to protect shorelines. The main customers of living shorelines are private residences and wildlife preserves where creating a marsh is desirable. From the article:
The degree of armoring varies around the Bay. Most exists in heavily developed urban and suburban areas. In Maryland, rates of armoring range from single digits in Somerset, Wicomico and Dorchester counties to roughly 40% in Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties. The vast majority of shoreline in Baltimore city is armored, data show.
Misrepresentation #5- The "Strand Living Shoreline Project" will NOT destroy the profile of the iconic Oxford Strand or beach. This misrepresentation is probably the most obvious to see. One can drive down the Oxford Strand now and see the destruction of the beautiful shoreline by the ugly "islands" and sand berms placed there. Add some sea grasses to that mix and you no longer have the pristine, beautiful shoreline that you had for over 300 years. You have a wetlands marsh and swamp.
Picture of the Strand Prior to the Turn of the Century.
In fact, the quote at the end of the article exposes the real motive of the Oxford Strand Beach Restoration via Living Shorelines:
Every time somebody is allowed to “re-armor,” said Bay Foundation senior scientist Doug Myers, an opportunity to create a marsh is lost. “We really do want to do a living shoreline if somebody is at the [point that] they have to replace a bulkhead.”
Again, they desire marsh creation.
Misrepresentation #6-Living Shorelines are economical answers for erosion of shorelines. The article goes against this as well.
Living shorelines don’t always cost more. But the cost is often high in places exposed to intense wind-driven waves, especially with the labor involved in planting and maintaining vegetation. In some cases, homeowners balk at the projected cost and may try armoring the shoreline without a permit.
What is the Oxford Strand? It is a place exposed to intense wind-driven waves. It will be interesting to see the cost involved in the labor of planting and maintaining vegetation as well as replacing sand.
Even the DNR says:
“Meeting with different property owners, it’s hard to say a living shoreline of some form won’t work in most sites,” said Wes Gould, chief of DNR’s shoreline conservation service. “But … at what point financially is it unfeasible. Who makes that call?”
Wes admits that it is " hard to say" if a living shoreline "won't work." They can't say it will work and it is hard to justify the expense based on that.
The Bay Journal clearly wrote an article written to convince people that living shorelines are the best way to save our beaches and shorelines from destruction. However, even they can't deny that there are other options available that will do the job just as well in many situations like Oxford. The Oxford town administration turned a deaf ear to those options. Why? How did they get away with it?
During the Pandemic, town meetings were held virtually with no in person attendance allowed. What better time to present what will be a controversial project; when no one can question and/or respond face to face.
It's also clear that the people in town who signed off on the Strand Beach Restoration Project wanted to be in on the latest technique in the environmental universe, regardless of the detrimental effects of the project on this historic attraction in the town. As Town Clerk Lewis said when choosing contractors for the project, she wanted an "out of the box" proposal instead of choosing an armoring approach that would save both the appearance and the integrity of the Strand. They were talked into this approach. They either ignored the whole point of creating a "marsh" or were purposely misled.
The citizens aren't having it.
The town administration knows that the citizens are not on board with this project. Therefore, they are presenting this:
We recommend that citizens attend and bring many questions for these speakers.
A good one might be, " How will you rectify the damage you have done to the Historic Shoreline on Oxford's Strand?" or " How will you restore the Strand to the way it has been for over 300 years?"
Even better, "Why didn't you explore ways to prevent erosion while maintaining the integrity of the Strand?"
For more details, read these articles about the project. You will see many quotes from those in charge. Their words speak volumes.
NOTES: The resistance to these ugly solutions in the name of the environment are happening in other towns and cities as well. For example, in Ocean City, the citizens came out against wind turbines along their shore: