Tag Archives: Richard Colburn

Some Hope Gas Tax Will Fund Bridge Repair, Construction

Capital News Service

ANNAPOLIS – Republican Sen. Richard Colburn of Dorchester voted against Maryland’s recently passed gas tax increase, but now hopes some of the new money will go to replacing the Dover Bridge in his district.

The new taxes, initially expected to raise prices at the pump by 4 cents a gallon this July, might help to expand funding for the rehabilitation and replacement of Maryland’s deteriorating bridges.

As of April, 87 of the 2,572 Maryland State Highway Administration maintained bridges were structurally deficient, which doesn’t mean they are unsafe, but that they have areas that need to be repaired or replaced, according to data from the State Highway Administration.

Another 373 bridges maintained by the State Highway Administration are functionally obsolete, which means they have lanes that are too narrow or are otherwise not built to current standards, according to the 2012 National Bridge Inventory Database compiled by the Federal Highway Administration.

“It’s a major public safety concern,” Colburn said of the Dover Bridge, which is considered functionally obsolete because of its narrow lanes.

In 2011, 39 states had a higher percentage of deficient bridges than Maryland, according to a report by the Transportation for America Coalition, an organization dedicated to transportation reform. Pennsylvania had the highest percentage of deficient bridges.

Maintenance and replacement of the State Highway Administration’s bridges is mainly funded by the federal government, but Maryland’s Transportation Trust Fund takes on about 20 percent of the cost, said David Buck, spokesman for the Maryland Department of Transportation.

The Transportation Trust Fund is used to pay for transportation infrastructure projects and maintenance. About one-fifth of the fund’s revenue comes from the gas tax. The rest comes from sources such as vehicle titling and registration fees.

Before the new gas tax, known as the Transportation Infrastructure Investment Act of 2013, passed, the fund was projected to run out of money by 2018. The increased gas tax is expected to yield more than $116 million in additional revenue in its first year, which should help fund projects such as mass transit and road maintenance.

There are approximately 60 major bridge rehabilitation or replacement projects underway on state maintained roads, Buck said.

Bridges are considered structurally deficient once the superstructure, substructure or deck receives a rating below five on a scale of 0 to 10, Buck said.

The deck is the roadway. The superstructure supports the deck and the substructure reaches the ground, supporting the superstructure.

Of the 2,572 state-maintained bridges, 567 had a deck, superstructure or substructure value just one level above structurally deficient, according to the 2012 National Bridge Inventory Database. The State Highway Administration is not responsible for the other half of Maryland’s more than 5,000 bridges.

The Dover Bridge, an 80-year-old mechanical swing bridge over the Choptank River bordering Talbot and Caroline counties, received a rating of five for its deck, which means the primary structural elements are sound, but the bridge may have section loss, cracking, spalling or scour, according to the Recording and Coding Guide for the Structure Inventory and Appraisal of the Nation’s Bridges.

The superstructure received a satisfactory rating of six, as did the substructure, according to the database.

Buck said a rating of five may mean there are cracks or potholes, but because each bridge is different it’s hard to come up with a standard explanation for what goes wrong.

Colburn said it would cost about $45 million to replace the bridge, which swings horizontally into the channel to allow boats passage.

Buck said the State Highway Administration is fully aware Eastern Shore legislators would like to see the Dover Bridge replaced, but the money is not available now.

Although the bridge is functionally obsolete, “it isn’t a top priority from a structural perspective,” Buck said.

But Colburn and others worry that ambulances on the way to the hospital in Easton might be delayed in emergencies because the Dover Bridge’s antiquated drawspan sometimes gets stuck.

He’s also concerned because the lanes are only 11 feet wide and it is not uncommon for two trucks to pass each other and clip off each other’s mirrors.

Ken Decker, the Caroline County administrator, agrees the Dover Bridge is too narrow.

“If two tractor trailers pass on the bridge, you’re going to have to butter the fenders to get by,” Decker said.

Decker said engineering for a new bridge has been underway for about two years, but “there’s a big jump from engineering to construction funding.”

He thinks it’s too soon to tell whether the increased gas tax will help fund projects like the Dover Bridge, but ideally construction would begin soon after engineering is completed.

The 87 deficient bridges maintained by the State Highway Administration are all in the process of being replaced or repaired, Buck said. Thirty-two are under construction or soon to be under construction, and the rest are in design, Buck said.

Money from the gas tax funneled through the Transportation Trust Fund helps pay for projects like the Crosstown Bridge in Cumberland, which is currently under construction, Buck said.

The Crosstown Bridge in Cumberland, a long bridge elevated overtop neighborhoods and businesses, will cost $17.3 million to clean, repair and paint, in conjunction with another bridge project on Maryland 51 over the CSX Railroad and Canal Parkway.

The bridge needs a complete remodeling, said Sen. George Edwards, R-Allegany.

The bridge’s deck, superstructure and substructure all received satisfactory ratings of five, according to the 2012 National Bridge Inventory Database.

Although the majority of bridges worked on are structurally deficient, non-deficient bridges are also worked on for reasons such as widening to accommodate traffic, or to extend the bridge’s longevity, Buck said.

One example is a $3.2 million cleaning and painting project currently underway for two bridges on I-695 over the Patapsco River and over Hammonds Ferry Road in Anne Arundel County.

Buck said scraping the existing paint down to bare metal and putting on three coats of new paint helps to keep the beams in good health for 20 to 30 years.

“We clean and paint bridges all the time, not because they are structurally deficient, but because our engineers have determined that it increases the lifespan of the bridge,” Buck said.

Twenty bridges were fixed or replaced by the State Highway Administration last year. In that time, 10 more bridges became structurally deficient.

Since 2007, 121 state-owned bridges classified as structurally deficient have been rehabilitated, according to the Maryland Department of Transportation Consolidated Transportation Program.

Stephen Davis, deputy communications director for Transportation for America, said his coalition works to make sure there is a greater focus on fixing current infrastructure rather than working on new projects.

“That would certainly be the hope,” Davis said, of how the gas tax might help increase repairs of deteriorating bridges.

CNS 05-10-13

Legislators Want to Restrict Custody Rights for Parents Convicted of Sexual Abuse of a Child

Capital News Service

ANNAPOLIS – Several Maryland legislators are pushing for stricter limits on custody and visitation rights for parents convicted of sex crimes.

Thursday, the Judicial Proceedings Committee heard a bill from Sen. Richard Colburn, R-Caroline, which would prevent courts from awarding custody and visitation to a parent guilty of sexual abuse of a minor, unless there is “good cause” to award custody.

Colburn’s bill was cross filed with legislation by Delegate Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio, R-Talbot, who learned of two cases where a parent convicted of sexually abusing a minor either won custody of their child, or could get it.

In one of the cases, the man found guilty of sexual abuse of a minor has now sexually abused his son, Haddaway-Riccio said.

“We need to make a higher standard for child custody,” Haddaway-Riccio said.

The Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault supported Colburn and Haddaway-Riccio’s bills in written testimony, but requested an amendment that would clearly define “good cause.”

Barbara Mattison, an Annapolis woman who has been a victim of mental and physical abuse, spoke in favor of the bill on behalf of her mother, who was sexually abused as a child by her father and uncles.

“She did not get this protection,” Mattison said.

The Office of the Public Defender opposed the bill, saying existing laws already protect children from abuse and neglect.

“We believe the current law not only protects children from a broader range of harm (than the bill), but does so pursuant to laws and proceedings that embody appropriate standards and steps,” read the office’s written testimony.

Bret Larrimore of Easton, who was sexually abused when he was 11, is also opposed to the legislation.

He was convicted of sexual abuse of a minor in 2009, has attended classes and therapy, and is now married with a 2-year-old son.

“I know the effects and what it can cause and where it can take you,” Larrimore said.

The bill would only cover cases of sexual abuse of a minor if the conviction occurred after Oct. 1, 2013, and so would not affect him personally, but he knows of other men who have turned their lives around.

”These men are good fathers. They’re good men. They don’t want to go back where they were. They don’t want to be those men anymore,” Larrimore said.

Maryland courts resolve custody disputes based on what’s in the best interests of the child. If the court has reason to believe a child has been abused or neglected by one of the parents, then the court must determine whether the parent would abuse the child if granted custody or visitation.

The courts may also consider a supervised visitation agreement.

Courts must consider evidence of abuse between parents or spouses, as well as abuse of any child living in the household.

Courts have only denied visitation in exceptional circumstances, according to a fiscal note accompanying the bill. In a 1985 case, Arnold v. Naughton, the Court of Special Appeals held that noncustodial parents didn’t necessarily lose supervised visitation rights if they were guilty of sexually abusing the child.

The U.S. Supreme Court and the Maryland Court of Appeals have recognized parents have a fundamental right to govern the care, custody and control of their children, unless the parent is found unfit, or under exceptional circumstances.

Haddaway-Riccio’s version of the bill was heard by the House Judiciary Committee Jan. 17, with no opposing testimony, but nothing has come of it, so far. Haddaway-Riccio said this may be due to the committee dealing with high-profile issues like gun control and the death penalty.

Sen. Jamie Raskin, D-Montgomery also had a bill regarding custody and visitation heard by the Judicial Proceedings Committee. Raskin’s bill would deny male rapists of their parental rights if a child resulted from the violent act, but courts could still impose child support orders. There are 30 senators and 77 delegates supporting his bill.

CNS 02-28-13

Colburn Speaks Out On UM Law Clinic

State Senator Richard Colburn says funding for the embattled University of Maryland environmental law clinic should be used to create a similar program at the University of Baltimore School of Law that would represent farmers. The proposal from Colburn is a rebuke to the school’s attempt to sue owners of a Worcester County chicken farm for polluting a nearby waterway. It was approved by a Senate subcommittee. The move would transfer $500,000 from the law clinic’s lobby shop to establish an agricultural law clinic at UB. Lawmakers and Governor Martin O’Malley have criticized the clinic for pursuing the suit. The subcommittee’s recommendation will be considered by the entire Budget and Taxation committee before moving along in the legislative process.

Legislators Seek Information on Warrants for DNR Tracking Devices

Capital News Service

ANNAPOLIS – Two Maryland legislators are using a recent Supreme Court decision to pressure the Department of Natural Resources into releasing warrants used to install GPS tracking devices on several boats last year.

They’re also pushing legislation that would explicitly prohibit the department from using GPS on boats without court orders.

SB 101, introduced by Sen. Richard Colburn, R-Dorchester, specifically addresses GPS devices and indicates they should only be used with a court order, with the expectation that the installation could yield results pertaining to an ongoing criminal investigation.

“Even Dorchester County watermen have constitutional rights,” said Colburn, in response to incidents last year when several watermen found GPS tracking devices on their vessels.

Though the Department of Natural Resources maintains it had warrants for the instances in Dorchester County, it is refusing to release copies of the applications for warrants or copies of the actual warrants.

In a letter dated Feb. 3, Deputy Attorney General John Howard confirmed that the Natural Resources Police had court orders “authorizing the placement of tracking devices for the investigation of natural resource violations.”

The Department of Natural Resources said the warrants are part of investigative files, explaining the reason they are not being released.

“The Natural Resources Police use the tracking devices as an investigative tool,” said Sgt. Art Windemuth, spokesman for the Maryland Natural Resources Police. Windemuth said the devices are always used in conjunction with necessary warrants, but he wouldn’t go into specifics in these instances.

But like Colburn, Delegate Michael Smigiel, R-Cecil, believes watermen’s rights need to be better protected.

Smigiel intends to continue pushing for more information on the warrants, even threatening legal action, despite receiving the letter from Howard saying the Attorney General’s office believes Secretary of Natural Resources John Griffin acted within his discretion.

“I’ll take you to court,” said Smigiel, after repeated insistence by Griffin at an Eastern Shore Delegation meeting that the information was confidential and was part of an ongoing investigation.

But the letter makes clear that should Smigiel go forward with a lawsuit, the Attorney General’s office would side with the Department of Natural Resources.

Smigiel and Colburn have been trying to obtain information since last year, even before the Supreme Court decision, about the tracking devices through legislation, letters and questioning of representatives of the Department of Natural Resources.

Smigiel said he knew how the Supreme Court decision would come down, and now that the decision has been made, he plans to introduce legislation similar to the bill Colburn introduced in the senate.

“It’s outrageous that they won’t disclose the name of the judge,” said Smigiel, who was unsuccessful in getting more information about the judge who issued the warrants.

Smigiel also said he finds it outrageous that the Department of Natural Resources won’t give its reasons for probable cause for obtaining the warrants in the first place.

He said he means no disrespect to the Department of Natural Resources, but that he has a “profound respect for the Constitution,” and believes this is a matter where individual rights are being infringed upon.

Larry Simns, president of the Maryland Watermen’s Association, said he agrees police definitely should have a warrant to install tracking devices on boats, especially after the Supreme Court decision.

He doesn’t believe GPS tracking is a tactic that is necessary to monitor all watermen because there are only “a few bad apples.”

Simns said there are other methods of monitoring boats and watermen that are being explored.

A representative for the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries said the department does not use GPS trackers to monitor boats in its waterways.

Lee Walker, the Agency Outreach director for the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, said that while they use some tracking to study wildlife, it’s not something they routinely install on vessels to monitor boats.

I’ve never seen it done here, he said.

Possible Doubling of Flush Tax Worries Some Legislators

Capital News Service

ANNAPOLIS – A number of legislators are concerned that Gov. Martin O’Malley’s proposal to raise the flush tax from $2.50 to $5 a month to help clean up the Chesapeake Bay could be too much for constituents to handle, especially in a bad economy.

The flush tax, which raises funds for updates of wastewater treatment plants, as well as septic systems and stormwater management, costs each household a total of $30 a year. But O’Malley’s proposal for the Bay Restoration Fund ties the fee to consumption, with $5 being the average that most people will pay per month.

Those who use less water could pay less, but high-volume users could pay upwards of $60 a year.

Though many legislators agree that the Chesapeake Bay is a priority, they also have to consider what this would mean for Maryland residents.

“Believe me, I’m on the side of cleaning the bay up,” said Delegate Jay Jacobs, R-Kent. “But it’s going to be a very difficult year for me to vote for any increase.”

Jacobs said he is not opposed to the fee, but based on feedback from his constituents, he doesn’t feel that an increase is the right choice at this time.

Proponents of the increase argue that if the flush tax is not at least doubled, there are a number of wastewater treatment plants that would not have the same funding opportunities as others in the state.

Some facilities have already been upgraded while others are waiting for necessary modifications, said Alison Prost, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Maryland executive director.

In addition to supporting O’Malley’s plan, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation is calling for an additional doubling to $10 a month. This would allow jurisdictions to start better addressing the problem of stormwater, which is a serious issue because it runs off when it rains, sending pollutants into drinking water and the bay, Prost said.

“Without additional dedicated funding for stormwater, we are not going to get the job done,” Prost said.

Sen. Richard Colburn, R-Dorchester, said he recognizes the importance of the flush tax, but opposes the increase at this time.

“I can say that the Bay Restoration fee has been used beneficially for a lot of wastewater treatment plants. It has been well utilized, and has given us money that we wouldn’t have had otherwise,” Colburn said.

Legislators are particularly concerned about the flush tax being tied to water consumption, and the impact that could have on rural areas and industries such as farming, which require a lot of water.

Sen. Jim Mathias, D-Worcester, said he wants to hear the debate about the increase in the flush tax before making up his mind. He said he is open-minded and recognizes this could be beneficial to the Eastern Shore where tourism and the fishing industry rely on clean water.

But Mathias worries about the financial burden on families and businesses.

“When we did the initial flush tax, it was a different economy,” Mathias said.

Capital News Service’s Amanda Yeager contributed to this story.

Colburn Sponsors Background Check Bill

In day two of Maryland’s 2012 Legislative Session, a Senate committee reviewed a bill that would give Caroline, Talbot and two lower shore counties the authorization to run national criminal background checks on county employees and county volunteers. Senator Richard Colburn, who sponsored the measure, says the bill is designed, to protect kids. “There have been sex offenders that have been hired by our counties to work in the school system . . . this would prevent that from happening,” said Colburn. If the bill passes, the measure would then head to the full Senate. Currently, only seven counties are authorized to run national criminal background checks.

Senator Introduces Bill Requiring Driver’s License Identification of Sex Offenders

Capital News Service
ANNAPOLIS – State Sen. Richard F. Colburn wants to make sure police officers in Maryland know what they’re dealing with when they stop a sex offender on the road, especially if that sex offender has a child in the car.

Colburn, R-Dorchester, has introduced legislation this year that would require that driver’s licenses display a code identifying sex offenders to law enforcement.

“I believe that if we’re serious about cracking down on sex offenders, we need to give our police officers this tool,” Colburn said.

Colburn introduced a similar measure last year during a flurry of legislative activity on sex offenders in response to the December 2009 rape and murder of 11-year-old Sarah Foxwell in Wicomico County. A registered sex offender has been charged with the crime.

The 2010 legislation passed the Senate but died in conference committee due to concerns that the amendment had not been properly vetted and that it could lead to violation of offenders’ rights.

The American Civil Liberties Union has been among those opposed to such legislation, calling any mark on an identification card “a scarlet letter” and an unnecessary measure.

David Walsh-Little, a public defender and member of Maryland’s Sex Offender Advisory Board, said the mark would have the effect of “marginalizing people who need treatment in a society that needs education about sex offenses.”

Colburn said the code, placed on a sex offender’s driver’s license by the Motor Vehicle Administration, could only be read by law enforcement. And that might be enough to convince other legislators to support the bill.

“If Sen. Colburn brings it back to the Judicial Proceedings Committee, and it’s in a code that’s only discernible to police officers, it has my support,” said Sen. James Brochin, D-Baltimore County, and a member of that committee. “Because I think that’s a win-win.”

Colburn is unsure of how exactly the bill would be implemented, but Wicomico County Sherriff Mike Lewis, who led the search for Sarah Foxwell and worked with Colburn on the legislation, said there are a couple of ways it could be marked on the license — either in the bar code or with a small, lettered caution code, similar to the marking for drivers with corrective lenses.

Lewis said that such marks would give his officers an additional level of awareness when pulling over sex offenders.

“I have every right, actually I have a duty, to ask that sex offender additional questions if he has a child in the car,” Lewis said. Investigators believe that Sarah Foxwell was driven throughout Wicomico County the night of her disappearance.

Similar legislation has been considered in Connecticut and California. A few states, including Delaware, Louisiana and Tennessee, already have laws for marking the driver’s licenses of sex offenders.

Other legislation has been introduced to crack down on sex offenders, including a bill toughening the punishment for indecent exposure involving minors and a bill to criminalize attempted sexual offense in the third degree.

Watermen Want More Say in Oyster Management

Capital News Service
ANNAPOLIS – Watermen converged on the State House on Tuesday to voice their support for bills that would drastically diminish the Department of Natural Resources’ ability to regulate oyster harvesting.

The watermen say they do not trust the department, and believe the governor’s proposed Oyster Restoration and Aquaculture Development Plan will destroy their livelihoods. Under Gov. Martin O’Malley’s proposal, some areas that are productive and open to oyster harvesting now would be designated as oyster sanctuaries.

Bunky Chance, of Bozman, said he and other watermen want an opportunity to sit down with the department and discuss their ideas.

“As it stands right now, the DNR can snap their fingers … we could be unemployed (tomorrow) without any voice in the process,” he said.

Tuesday, Chance and dozens of other watermen gathered outside the state house with posters supporting their cause, then headed to the Senate Environmental Matters Committee hearing about the bills.

One bill, sponsored by Sen. E.J. Pipkin, R-Upper Shore, and Sen. Richard F. Colburn, R-Mid-Shore, would prohibit the department from designating any new oyster sanctuaries before Oct. 1, 2011. Otherwise, the governor’s plan could go into effect as early as May.

Pipkin said the bill would allow more time for serious discussion about the proposed plan.

“If we get it wrong, we’ll drive people off of the water, out of business,” he said.

Another bill, also sponsored by Pipkin and Colburn, would give county oyster committees the ability to allow power dredging in certain areas.

The bill “comes out a sense of frustration in the process,” Pipkin said. Oystermen who work the waters “feel their ideas are being ignored.”

Giving the authority to designate dredging areas to oyster committees would “give these powers to the people who work these waters every day,” Pipkin said.

A third bill, sponsored by Colburn, would take the department’s ability to designate oyster sanctuaries away and give it to the legislature.

John Griffin, secretary of natural resources, said the department opposes the bills because they restrict its ability to regulate the oyster fishery.

“The state bottom is owned by the taxpayers of the state, not by any individual,” he said.

The oyster population has been stuck at about 1 percent of historic levels for years, Griffin said, and the proposed plan is an effort to fix that.

“If you want to maintain the status quo, you should support these bills,” he told the committee.

Griffin stressed that he did not want to harm the oyster industry or drive people out of business. He said the proposal is just that — a proposal — and members of the public, including watermen, have had the opportunity to comment on it.

The reason the department did not sit down with the oystermen and try to come to an agreement about the proposed sanctuary areas before proposing them is because those types of efforts have not worked in the past, he said.

“The industry knew where we were heading with this plan,” Griffin said. If the department had tried to get everyone’s input initially, “we’d be where we’ve always been: nowhere.”

But Chance and other watermen blamed the department for the low oyster population, and asked for the ability to try their own methods.

“We see these resources as being mismanaged to the 1 percent level,” Chance said. “We’re here to tell the DNR clearly: We’re not going away.”

Sen. Joan Carter Conway, D-Baltimore, told the watermen they must be open to compromise.

“We’re not trying to take your livelihood away,” said Conway, the chairman of the Environmental Matters Committee.

But if something doesn’t happen soon, she said, there will be no oysters left.

Keller Longenecker of Bozman, said before the hearing that the watermen do want to preserve — and increase — the oyster population.

“We’re not trying to cut our throats,” he said. “I want my son to be able to work on the water.”

Also Tuesday, the committee heard testimony in support of a bill sponsored by Sen. Brian Frosh, D-Montgomery, that would allow the department to revoke the oyster license of some fishermen who are cited for oyster poaching.

The bill would set up an administrative hearing process for anyone cited for taking oysters from closed areas, with illegal gear, at illegal times, during closed seasons or from someone else’s leased area, Frosh said. People found guilty would have their oyster license revoked.

“This is a tough bill, but it’s fair,” Frosh said. It “provides protection for the oysters, but … also for the honest oysterman.”

Watermen Fight to Protect Oyster Harvesting Techniques

Capital News Service

ANNAPOLIS – More than 150 watermen took a day off from the water Tuesday to protest a proposed oyster restoration plan and support a bill they say will help them hang on to their livelihood.

The bill would protect the watermen’s right to use certain equipment and techniques — power dredging and patent tongs — to harvest oysters. The areas where oystermen can use that equipment is already limited, and the bill would prevent the state from further restrictions.

“We see this as a preemptive bill,” said Sen. Richard F. Colburn, R-Caroline, who sponsored the bill and introduced it Tuesday in the Senate’s Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee.

Watermen also say their ability to harvest oysters is threatened by Gov. Martin O’Malley’s proposed Oyster Restoration and Aquaculture Development Plan.

The 10-point plan includes increasing oyster sanctuaries from 9 percent of the current habitat to about 25 percent, leaving less area for struggling oystermen to harvest. Watermen worry the state’s next step will be to ban power dredging and patent tonging all together.

The oyster restoration plan does not specifically address the harvesting methods. But Department of Natural Resources officials say Colburn’s bill would inhibit the department’s ability to establish oyster sanctuaries in the lower part of the Chesapeake Bay, where most of the dredging happens.

Watermen say power dredging can do more to restore oyster populations than sanctuaries can do.

Bucky Chance, a waterman from Bozman, pointed to the Tangier Sound as an example. Ten years ago, he said, an oyster was hard to come by in those waters. Now, many oystermen are catching their limit there every day … and seeing plenty of young oysters as well.

“Every place we have used (this equipment),” they’re coming back. Every place we’re not, they’re barren,” Chance told the Senate committee.

But Tom O’Connell, director of the Department of Natural Resources fisheries service, said dredging can be destructive in some parts of the bay.

“We know for certain” that power dredging is not sustainable over time in certain areas, O’Connell said.

Joe Kubert, a waterman from Kent Island, said dredging “fluffs up” the bottom, providing a cleaner spot for spat – or baby oysters – to attach to and creating a good habitat for crabs and fish.

Jeff Harrison, a year-round commercial fisherman from Tilghman Island, said the oyster industry “is basically surviving off of power dredging and tonging.”

“If I have to stop power dredging, that’s six months out of the year gone, and I can’t just crab and fish,” Harrison said. “I would have to find another job. Who’s going to hire a 51-year-old fat man? There’s nothing much for me to do.”

Ronnie Fithian, a Kent County commissioner who worked as a waterman for about 28 years, said the issue is “life or death for the oystermen.”

He called the idea of sanctuaries “a joke,” and said oystermen would argue that “the more you work an area, the better it is.”

Del. Richard Sossi, a Republican from the Eastern Shore, said that given the slumping economy and difficult job market, the timing of the oyster restoration proposal seems off.

“Doesn’t it strike you as a bad time to gamble on people’s livelihoods?” he said, during a Tuesday morning presentation about the oyster proposal to the House Environmental Matters Committee.

Secretary of Natural Resources John Griffin said the proposal is intended to help oyster production, not to force anyone out of work or limit power dredging. But Sen. Andrew Harris, R-Baltimore County, also questioned the timing of the oyster proposal.

The Senate bill preserving power dredging and patent tonging could provide a transitional period for oystermen, Harris said, allowing them to keep using the equipment as the state moves forward with sanctuaries.

After the hearing, Colburn said Harris’ comments and the discussion they spurred were a “ray of hope.” Colburn said he would be open to giving the bill an expiration date, perhaps five years from now.

Capital News Service reporter Adam Kerlin contributed to this story.