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Havre de Grace annexes island, but now has to change gunning laws

The City of Havre de Grace has completed its annexation of the Tydings Park island, in the background, and surrounding water, but the annexation means waterfowl hunting will be restricted around the island until the ordinance banning the discharge of firearms inside the city limits is amended.
The City of Havre de Grace has completed its annexation of the Tydings Park island, in the background, and surrounding water, but the annexation means waterfowl hunting will be restricted around the island until the ordinance banning the discharge of firearms inside the city limits is amended. (Matt Button / Record staff)

The area around Tydings Island and the waters along its south side are among the last bastions of the long heritage of waterfowl hunting near the confluence of the Susquehanna River and the Chesapeake Bay in Havre de Grace.

The City of Havre de Grace, which has owned the island for 82 years, voted unanimously Monday night to ensure it controls the land it has long owned by annexing the uninhabited island into the city limits.

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Hunters reacted to the annexation before it was approved, claiming an unintended consequence of the move was the end of hunting in the popular spot because Havre de Grace law doesn't allow discharging a firearm in the city limits.

Members of the City Council responded quickly and said they would legislate an exemption that would allow hunting to continue in that spot.

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The Havre de Grace City Council postponed taking action Monday on annexing commercial properties along Route 40 to address concerns raised by the owner of one of the properties. The council is moving forward on a second resolution to annex Tydings Island.

"The water is calmer," Capt. Joey Jobes, a longtime Havre de Grace decoy carver and waterfowl hunter, said Wednesday. "Just the shore itself breaks the wind, and it [allows] you to go hunting on a windy day."

The ability to hunt in that area could have been lost, though, now that the city has annexed the island and the waters around it, since the municipal code prohibits the discharge of firearms within city limits.

Jobes contacted City Councilman Steve Gamatoria on Saturday, two days before the council was scheduled to vote to adopt the annexation resolution, and Gamatoria brought up that conversation during Monday night's council meeting, shortly before the council took its vote on bringing the island into the city limits.

He said the impact on hunters could be an "unintended consequence" of the annexation, and the issue had not come up since the city announced its intention to annex the area in late February.

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"That certainly was not an intended consequence whatsoever," Gamatoria said.

He said an amendment to the city's Code 73 will be drafted to allow firearms discharge in the hunting areas just south of the island. He pointed out there is already an exception in the code for the Havre de Grace Police Department's shooting range, which is on the northeast side of the city.

Gamatoria thanked Jobes for bringing the issue to the attention of city officials.

The council went ahead with voting on Resolution 282 and voted 5-0 to adopt it. Councilman Michael Hitchings did not arrive until later in the meeting.

Gamatoria said Tuesday he plans to bring the amendment to the city code to allow firearms discharge south of Tydings Island to the next council meeting.

He reiterated that city officials never intended to do anything that would affect waterfowl hunting.

"Waterfowl hunting has been part of Havre de Grace for hundreds of years," he said.

The area annexed comprises 200 acres, much of it water.

Gamatoria said the city boundary extends to the shoreline of Tydings Park, but the island and the surrounding waters – including those around the docks of the park's yacht basin – had not been made part of the city.

The city has owned the island since it was acquired from the late U.S. Sen. Millard E. Tydings in November of 1935, according to City Attorney April Ishak. The park is named in honor of Senator Tydings, who died in 1961.

Over the years, the island has been expanded as material dredged from the yacht basin and its access channels has been dumped there.

"The Island is being annexed so that it will be under City jurisdiction, which would include the City's ability enforce applicable City Code and Charter provisions," Ishak wrote in an email Thursday.

The island had been under the jurisdiction of Harford County, which never gave it a zoning classification, according to Ishak, who noted the county has given its consent for the annexation.

"The City is attempting to clean up its boundary lines and land records," she stated. "There was ambiguity as to whether the Island was within corporate boundaries and the annexation clears up the issue."

The annexation gives the City of Havre de Grace jurisdiction over activities in the waters around the island, the city-owned yacht basin, the park and around the municipal wastewater treatment plant, according to Ishak.

Gamatoria said earlier that the discharge area from the treatment plant, which is off Old Bay Lane, will be included in the annexation area.

"The annexation of the surrounding waters also prevents creation of an enclave which would be prohibited," Ishak stated.

She noted "the legal definition of 'land' for purposes of annexation can include waters and subsurface land."

For many years, the island, which has no public access, was the site for launching the city's Independence Day fireworks.

This year, however, the fireworks will be launched from a barge in the Susquehanna River off Concord Point, after city officials and celebration planners said the new location would provide better visibility for spectators and facilitate the work of fire inspectors, who had raised past concerns about the stability of the island's soils, particularly when wet from rainfall.

Havre de Grace is on its way to annexing more than 200 acres, most of it water, in two separate actions involving two separate parcels.

There is no public access to the island, according to Ishak, although there is a small boat mooring area off of the north side of the island, and the city code will be amended to allow continued waterfowl hunting off the south side.

Jobes and his fellow hunters work about 500 to 1,000 feet from the south side of the island. They use a practice known as "body booting," when the hunter stands in the water in a protective suit, surrounded by decoys.

"They have drawn a line out into the water and annexed the water into the city limits," Jobes said Wednesday. "That's the part I was worried about."

He said hunters "body boot the whole [Susquehanna] Flats," and they hunt around Tydings Island on windy days.

"I'm not speaking just for myself," he said. "I'm speaking for many, many hunters that come from out of state."

Gamatoria, who noted waterfowl hunting season does not start until early September, said the annexation will proceed following Monday's adoption of the resolution.

The city charter must still be amended to allow for the annexation, which is expected to take effect 45 days after City Council approval, according to Ishak.



Harford County’s “Choose Civility” campaign kicked off with a breakfast event at the Water’s Edge Events Center in Belcamp on Wednesday.
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