EASTON — Talbot County Council candidates answered questions about the environment and related topics during a Thursday evening candidate forum at the Talbot County Free Library in Easton.
In attendance were Republican incumbents Corey Pack, Laura Price and Chuck Callahan, Republican challenger Frank Divilio; and Democratic challengers Naomi Hyman, Keasha N. Haythe and Pete Lesher.
Those unable to attend included Republican incumbent Jennifer Williams, and Democratic candidates Maureen Scott-Taylor and Rosalee “Rose” Potter.
Ten candidates — five Republicans and five Democrats — will be on the November ballot. John Griep, executive editor of The Star Democrat, served as moderator of the forum, which was co-sponsored by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the League of Women Voters of the Mid Shore.
“It’s important to note that the sponsors of this program, both CBF and League of Women Voters Mid Shore are not able to support or endorse any candidates for office, but we are able to educate people about the issues,” Alan Girard, Eastern Shore director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said.
Each candidate started by introducing themselves and gave background information about their role in Talbot County in front of an estimated 40 attendees.
For Haythe, attending the forum gave her an opportunity to discuss environmental protection, an important point in her platform. Being a waterman’s granddaughter, she said that she understands that the waters that residents fish at is the livelihood of Talbot County.
“With that, I believe that environmental stewardship is important to us. We want to ensure that we have clean waters, our agriculture is still viable and that our waterman have a way of life,” Haythe said. “I am committed to tackling those issues and making sure that we promote things like agri-tech and aqua-tech. There are businesses and organizations here that are subject matter experts in the environment. We need to gain information from those experts and bring them to the table.”
Candidates were asked how they would balance growth and protecting the environment, with the majority noting the county should embrace its comprehensive plan. Price said the comprehensive plan is “The Bible” of Talbot County and that is the overarching goals of what she wants to see in the character of the county.
“The zoning is what backs it up,” said Price. “That was a two-year process and we need to direct that growth to the towns, and places where we have infrastructure and we are running these sewer lines to clean up the environment and allow people to improve their homes.”
The candidates were also asked what two initiatives they would undertake to shape Talbot County economic development towards natural resource conservation, value added products, and services and living wages.
While some candidates said that they would like to see high tech jobs and partnerships with public schools to keep kids in Talbot County, Hyman said that she would like to see the county more energy independent.
“Agri-tech and aquaculture are important directions for us to go but I would also like support for green energy initiatives,” said Hyman. “We need providing training for the people who will service the install and service green facilities. (I would like to see) high tech, high skilled jobs that will pay a living wage, while helping our county, and our nation to become energy independent.”
Griep then asked candidates how they would promote oyster aquaculture jobs and similar businesses in Talbot County. All candidates, including Lesher, agreed on supporting the watermen, needing clean water and a way to increase the number of oysters.
“Aquaculture is a challenging industry to get into, I have known people who are doing this in different counties,” Lesher said. “We can and should help people get through those hoops. What aquaculture needs more than anything else is clean water to thrive in. We can’t simply do this in waters that are not unhealthy.”
When council members were asked about total maximum daily loads, Divilio said he would like to continue the dialogue of the topic rather than stop the discussions after a Talbot County Council vote.
“My plan is to continue to talk about TMDL,” said Divilio. “Why do we do this, why are we running sewer lines, why did we come up with a bad system? By working with great foundations, we are able to get the word out and continue with the dialogue of keeping the county clean.”
Candidates were then asked how they would work on improving waters that are unsafe for swimming and if they would support joining the Clean Chesapeake Coalition in which Caroline, Carroll, Cecil, Dorchester, Kent and Queen Anne’s are participating counties. All candidates agreed that they would find solutions to clean the water, including Callahan who discussed conditions of the Conowingo Dam.
“I think it’s going to be a heavy load on us and we would have to deal with it and look for your best interests,” Callahan said. “I think that with everything that is going on, we need to join into the coalition. I know it’s going to take a little bit of money, but I think what we got coming toward us we are going to need to handle.”
When it came to the topic of sea level rise, Pack said the council has put a lot of time and energy into it. He said they have taken some steps in education and building.
“Is the water rising? I would say yes, I would say flood levels are rising, I remember 10 years ago when we looked at redoing the Leeds Creek Bridge, one of the reasons we were looking to do that was because not only was the bridge deficient in some areas” (but a higher clearance was needed due to rising waters), Pack said.
On the issue of legislation concerning the use of plastic bags, candidates agreed that any legislation to that end would be legislating good behavior. On the topic of short-term rentals, all candidates agreed that in order to find a fair and balanced solution, they needed to look into the logistics of changing any ordinance.
During the closing statements, League of Women Treasurer and Webmaster Jeanne A. Halpin welcomed and thanked the candidates for answering all questions. She also thanked the audience for participating in the forum.
Attendee John Ford, Easton’s town council president, said the forum provided helpful information, but he still has a lot to think about when he goes to the voting booth.
“In regards to the question of the plastic bag ban, I was surprised that no one was willing to support that,” Ford said. “If we are going to do something about the excess use of plastics, we got to do something more to talk about it. If you really listen to all candidates, a lot of them were all focused on protecting the county and keeping the quality of life the same.”
The general election is Nov. 6, with early voting from Oct. 25 to Nov. 1. For more information about the candidates’ contact information and social media platforms, log onto the Talbot County Election Board website at http://www.talbotcountymd.gov/index.php?page=Election_Board.