Kent Could Have Sole Veto Authority If New Bay Bridge Span Were Located in Tolchester

Cecil Whig article (2018-08-03) reported that if the proposed new Chesapeake Bay crossing was located in Tolchester, Kent County could have sole veto power over the proposal. The revelation is the result of an interpretation by the Maryland Office of the Attorney General and is based on a 2013 law – § 4-407 of the Transportation Article. This section of the State code reads:

 (a)    This section applies to:
(1)    Caroline County;
(2)    Cecil County;
(3)    Dorchester County;
(4)    Kent County;
(5)    Queen Anne’s County;
(6)    Somerset County;
(7)    Talbot County;
(8)    Wicomico County; and
(9)    Worcester County.

(b)    A State agency, including the Maryland Transportation Authority, may not construct any toll road, toll highway, or toll bridge in the counties enumerated in this section without the express consent of a majority of the governments of the affected counties.

According to the Attorney General’s Office, if the new bridge span were located in Tolchester and was viewed as a toll bridge, then as the only affected county, Kent could theoretically veto the project. Legislation was proposed during the 2018 Session to repeal this section of the Code but the bill failed. The article included a portion of the written response by Assistant Attorney General David Stamper:

“(N)othing I have found in the legislative history suggests the General Assembly specifically contemplated the application of this provision to a toll bridge across the Bay. But the lack of any evidence in the legislative history on this specific point, or the suggestion that the General Assembly likely was focused primarily on infrastructure with a more significant presence on the Eastern Shore, cannot overcome the plain meaning of the statutory language, which expressly limits a State agency’s authority to construct a toll facility, including a toll bridge, in any of the nine Eastern Shore counties,” Stamper wrote. …

“In the final analysis, it is difficult to give conclusive guidance about the application of the statute in the abstract, without applying the statute to a specific proposed toll project,” Stamper wrote. “While I hope this letter is responsive to your questions, it is not an official opinion of the Attorney General.”

While not an official opinion of the Attorney General’s office, Stamper’s interpretation tracks the plain language of § 4-407 and seems likely to be upheld if the statutory language was actually put to the test. The article noted that both the Commissioners and county residents have expressed opposition to a new Bay Bridge span being located in Tolchester.

The article also discussed the ongoing wildlife specialist vacancy at the 2,000-acre Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge, which could prompt the closure of the facility to the public. Maryland Delegate Steve Arentz has submitted a letter to the regional chief of the National Wildlife Service calling the refuge “a national treasure” and urging that the position be filled.

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