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Time to cut bait on Smith Island

ConservationHurricane Sandy (2012)

A recent commentator speculated about whether Smith Island can be rescued from oblivion ("Smith Island can be saved," July 7). I ask, why bother? For the 50 years I've lived in Maryland, I've heard Smith Island this, Smith Island that. I really believed there was something to Smith Island. Boy, was I wrong! During a recent environmental professional institute, I visited Tylerton, one of the communities on the group of islands that constitute Smith Island. With all due respect to the lovely folks with whom I interacted, why any tax dollars would be spent saving a swamp with 50 or so residents is beyond me. Approximately half the homes are shacks, boarded up and seemingly abandoned. One woman said she opposed the recent buyout offer because the state wouldn't give her the $250,000 she thought her house was worth. Spending $250,000 for the whole island would be an overpayment.

In a recent Sun article, Tom Horton, probably the Chesapeake Bay's most ardent and knowledgeable supporter, suggested that (my words, his thoughts) it was time to prioritize the available financial resources to "save the bay." I agree, and Smith Island doesn't make the cut. The island advocates of continued taxpayer bailouts need some basic economic lessons in scarcity (limited financial resources), opportunity cost (money spent one place can't be used for something else), cost-benefit analysis (at what cost for what benefit), and diminishing returns (there comes a point where you get less return for each dollar spent and spending becomes non-productive).

The authors of the commentary say they "are beginning to discuss ways to improve the island's economy." I hate to break the news to them, but that horse done left the barn. The discussion should have begun 25 years or more ago. Nobody is going "to start a new business" without customers. You are not going to "keep children here" by living in a bygone era when they see the "real world" via technology and island-to-mainland school commutes. Any new families are a pipe dream.

We spoke to life-long residents (including watermen), and for the most part they accept the inevitable, especially the watermen. Our host on Tylerton came right out and said that if the wind direction and storm surge associated with last year's Superstorm Sandy had been aimed at the island instead of Crisfield, we wouldn't be sitting there having the conversation.

Finally, any environmentalists worth their salt will tell you that artificial barriers such as bulkheads, jetties, levees and rip-rap are not conducive to the "natural" environment and are stop-gaps at best.

Let it go, people.

Craig R. Piette, Reisterstown

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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