Somerset farm conversion is watershed condition of Wicomico airport project
By Liz Holland
PRINCESS ANNE — Mount Vernon residents will soon see a 50-acre farm converted into a natural area along the Wicomico River as part of wetlands replacement for a construction project miles away at the Salisbury-Ocean City: Wicomico County Regional Airport.
In the next few weeks, workers will begin grading the land and planting native trees on the Bobtown Road property to turn it into a combination of marsh near the river and forested nontidal wetlands closer to the road.
"Technically, we’re not creating wetlands, said Joe Carroll of Restoration Systems LLC, consultant for the project. "We’re restoring what it once was."
Although the land has been used for farming for many years, Carroll said it was once a "fully-functioning ecosystem" that had man-made "improvements" over the years, including leveling of the earth and the addition of drainage ditches for the fields. Carroll said part of his job was to figure out what the land once looked like, and to help restore it.
While a small portion will be turned into a marshy area near the river, most of the property will be a forested area that will only flood during certain times of the year. Native trees and shrubs are already on order from a nursery and should be ready to go in the ground over the next few weeks.
Other species, such as pine, will seed themselves naturally on the property.
"Nature takes care of a lot of it, but we want to give some species a head start," he said.
The project also will include the elimination of phragmites — an invasive reed — along the riverbank. Workers will also fill in the drainage ditches.
Carroll said it’s unlikely the new wetland area will encroach on adjoining properties because there is a 5-foot fall from the road where neighboring houses are located down to the river, so water will drain away from the houses. The work in Somerset County is necessary because airport runway projects are disturbing 40 acres of wetlands along a small creek that feeds into the Wicomico River, and federal environmental regulations require Wicomico County to create new wetlands somewhere else in the same watershed.
Last year, Wicomico officials identified more than 160 possible sites along the Wicomico River in Wicomico County, but they turned out to be either unsuitable or the property owners refused to sell, Carroll said. The Mount Vernon site met all the Maryland Department of the Environment criteria — including 50 contiguous acres of hydric soil — and the owner was willing to sell.
Although Somerset County officials questioned why it was necessary for Wicomico County to bring its wetlands mitigation over the county line, residents in Mount Vernon don’t seem to mind it too much, said County Commissioner Rex Simpkins, who represents that district.
"I’ve only heard one or two negative remarks," he said. Carroll said.
The property — which will eventually serve as part of the important filtration system for the Wicomico Watershed — will be an attractive, natural area when it’s completed. The project also has pleased state and federal environmental officials because poorer quality wetlands near the airport are being replaced.
"The restored area will be better than what is being taken away," he said.