A bill that would allow nonprofit educational groups to lease oyster grounds in the Severn River has cleared the legislature and awaits the governor's signature.
Two leases on oyster bottom would be affected when the measure takes effect Oct. 1.
"I love it. The world is a very nice place," said William Moulden, president of the Severn River Association.
Mr. Moulden also runs a children's educational program that the bill was designed to benefit.
The House passed the bill unanimously Friday. The Senate had taken action earlier.
The bill could be signed as early as Tuesday, the first ceremonial bill-signing day for Gov. Parris N. Glendening.
If the bill is not signed Tuesday, it will have to wait until May 9 or May 25, said Bonnie A. Kirkland, the governor's chief legislative officer.
The bill was written for the Boys and Girls of Sherwood Forest, which was barred last year from holding title to the Round Bay oyster grounds they are working to restore.
The youths held a T-shirt sale, washed cars and dug into savings to raise $600 for two leases. The bill limits an organization to two leases.
Last year, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) said it was against the law for the 225-child community program to own the 20-year leases issued by DNR.
Mr. Moulden reluctantly took title.
Since then the children have restored nearly 6 acres of reef.
Mr. Moulden also wanted to transfer the leases to the children, but that was against state law.
"DNR said, 'We're sorry, but the law doesn't allow you to transfer the leases. You'll have to go to the legislature for that,'" said Daniel J. Mellin, a Sherwood Forest resident, lawyer and director of the youth naturalist program.
The program's supporters went to the legislature, and Mr. Mellin drafted a bill changing the law as well as articles of incorporation for the youth program. Mr. Moulden looked for legislators to support the bill. DNR became one of its backers.
"It would be special for minors to own something of real value. The real value is the stewardship value and being a real stake-holder. Those symbols and signs are real useful," Mr. Moulden said.
The oysters planted on the restored reefs will act as a water filter. One oyster can filter up to 50 gallons a day.
The Severn River is closed to public harvesting.
Existing law generally precludes corporations from leasing oyster beds. Exceptions are made for 4-H clubs and for colleges and universities doing research.
The wording in the new measure applies to all nonprofit corporations and companies without stockholders organized for educational and charitable purposes. One such organization, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, wants to start a reef in the Severn River.
"We're nonprofit and nonstock," said William J. Goldsborough, a fisheries scientist with the foundation. He testified in favor of the measure. "I think there is a good chance we will [start and seed a reef]. . . . We're definitely thinking about it."
He said he expects other groups also will start leasing oyster ground and called the Sherwood Forest program "a test case for this approach."
"I do think it will meet with some success," he said. "Others will learn from it."