Community leaders in Selby Bay say hundreds of their neighbors are ready to fight a state Department of Natural Resources attempt to change a natural oyster bar's mapped boundaries.
They say the state's proposal to shrink the 194-acre oyster bar by 61 acres on its western side is aimed at accommodating a marina that is seeking to expand.
A challenge to county regulations on marinas is pending before the Court of Special Appeals.
"It is our contention that DNR is doing this to accommodate an owner of a marina and circumvent the legal process that is already in the works," said Brenda M. DeLalla, president of the Turkey Point Property Owners Association.
Association members, whose swimming beach abuts the oyster bar, fear that reducing it would ruin the beach, Mrs. DeLalla said.
The Selby community also expressed concern for its beach, which is 25 feet from a proposed pier, and vowed to continue its opposition.
For 10 years, Holiday Point Marina has been trying to expand at its location in the South River from about 165 slips to 299 slips. Neighboring communities have fought the proposal. Until now, the marina's owners have prevailed.
Recently, however, the county Board of Appeals denied Holiday Point's request for a variance. The owners wanted to put new slips about 1,800 feet from the oyster bar. The county code requires that new slips must be at least 2,640 feet from a shellfish bed. The DNR sets a less stringent 1,500-foot buffer. Neither law says the viability of the bed must be addressed.
Holiday Point's appeal would be moot if the DNR succeeded in shifting the oyster bed's boundaries by 850 feet, which would put the slips just beyond the county distance requirement. Opponents say this maneuver is no coincidence.
"The county law is still intact," said Patricia A. Logan, senior assistant county attorney. "It's the state's prerogative to say where the oyster bar is, and in that sense it is an end-run."
W. Peter Jensen, state Fisheries Division director, said the boundary shift is not being proposed just to help the marina. Surveys indicate that there are few oysters and little suitable oyster ground, so reducing the boundaries would be appropriate, Mr. Jensen said.
He also said the DNR did not pick 7 p.m. next Friday for a hearing on the proposal simply to inconvenience opponents.
Officials "did not even think about the July 4 holiday," he said.
Thomas J. Wohlgemuth, attorney for the opponents, disputed that, saying, "I think it is dirty pool."
Opponents say they hope to get a few hundred people to attend the hearing at the Tawes Office Building in Annapolis. Maureen Mershon, one of the marina's owners, said she wants to stay out of the fray and probably won't attend. The boundary revision could take affect as early as July 10.
The DNR will schedule a public survey of the oyster bar if one is requested, Mr. Jensen said. Mrs. DeLalla said she thinks the public should have been represented on the surveys the DNR conducted in January and May.
Last fall, Mrs. Mershon asked the DNR to resurvey the oyster bed, which the state agency said is of questionable quality. Although watermen say the bed has produced reasonably well in spots, few oysters were found.
"We knew there were no oysters out there," Mrs. Mershon said.
The state has not seeded the bed in more than five years, and oysters have reproduced poorly, especially along the western side.
The DNR also plans to designate the rest of the oyster bar a sanctuary where shellfish cannot be harvested, Mr. Jensen said. Other natural oyster bars in the South River would be seeded for harvesting instead. For that to happen, the South River would have to be added to a list of six state rivers designated for oyster recovery.
"It is an obvious effort to gain some approval within the environmental community," Mr. Wohlgemuth said of the DNR's suggestion.