Moving Community Gardens to Bainbridge Park is mistake
Commentary by Joe Reynolds
If Ocean Pines Community Gardens Club president Fred Henderson knows how to do anything well, it is generating publicity about OPA's intention to move the community gardens.
So what's the ruckus all about? It seems OPA needs additional land for storing and drying of material dredged from canals in the Pines as part of ongoing canal maintenance. Until recently the material was stored for drying on Manklin Creek Road at the entrance to the tennis courts, but Parke residents were complaining about the odor of the material as it dried. OPA General Manager Dave Ferguson says there is also a need for land to handle leaf collections and other Public Works activities. Ferguson says the logical place for all this is the area to the rear of the Public Works Building next to the South Side Fire Station. Any careful analysis of the situation reveals Ferguson's position has merit; it fact it is the only logical location.
Here's the rub -- the land behind the Public Works Building is the site of the Community Gardens. The Community Gardens Club has used this area for many years. Members are given small plots to grow vegetables and flowers. The club has about 80 members. Ferguson has been seeking an alternate location for the gardens for a year or more, and obtained a permit to use the curent community gardens area for storage of dredge material, with approval of the OPA Board of Directors. Some dredge material is there now, and the community gardens are officially scheduled to be moved after this growing season.
As all this developed, politics reared its head with a proposal to move the community gardens to Bainbridge Park. Anyone who hasn't visited Bainbridge Park should do so. It is one of the crown jewels among the Ocean Pines amenities. Surrounded almost entirely by woods, the open grassed area is on a small bluff overlooking a delightful pond. Henderson would like to see a substantial portion of that grassy knoll occupied by a fenced garden plot area. Some folks in the Bainbridge Park area aren't too happy with that idea, and it's likely many others around the Pines would not be happy if they knew all the facts.
Henderson seems to believe he is the keeper of the facts on this entire issue. Barbara Kissel is chair of the OPA Recreation and Parks Committee, and they are apparently not supportive of moving the community gardens to Bainbridge Park. Henderson said of Kissel, "She has no facts." In a phone conversation with this commentator, Henderson emphatically stated, "You don't know what's going on." At a public meeting of the Recreation and Parks Committee, Barbara Kissel said Henderson's group wants to take something away from Bainbridge Park, while her committee wants to add to the park.
Henderson claims his group has the support of Mike Howell, OPA Director of Recreation and Parks, as well as OPA landscaper Ed Wells. However, Howell denies any support. In a conversation with Mike Howell he stated, "I would not say I support it. Bainbridge is used by many people in the area and I don't know what the impact would be of placing the gardens there. Any decision is up to the board."
Howell's statement makes sense. OPA staffers under Dave Ferguson should not be involved directly in public recommendations with Henderson's group, especially on what boils down to a political issue. Staff recommendations should go only to the OPA Board through the General Manager.
Interestingly, Henderson's group was offered the land at the former drying location on Manklin Creek Road as a site for the gardens. They aren't happy with the idea, preferring instead the lovely grassy knoll in Bainbridge Park. Henderson says the soil at the Manklin Creek Road site isn't good, the drainage isn't too good, and he believes the Parke residents would object. The physical objections are somewhat without merit as all can be satisfied. For one thing, the gardeners do much of their own soil preparation, with topsoil and fertilizers. Soil testing indicated the site is suitable for gardens. While objections from Parke residents may prove to be real, they are the ones who more or less forced this issue to a head, and should be happy to see OPA change use of the Manklin Creek Road area from a spoils drying site to a garden.
Most people in the Pines would probably support keeping the community gardens at their present location. This commentator was among those, until carefully looking into all the alternatives and OPA needs. Research included speaking with George Dix, supervisor of the County Landfill, John Tustin, Director of Worcester County Public Works, Dave Ferguson, Barbara Kissel, Fred Henderson, and County Commissioner Tom Cetola. Research at the County level was intended to find out if the material OPA takes from canals could be dumped at the County Landfill. The answer was "yes" and there is no dumping fee required since the County needs earth in its operation. The issue is getting the material to the dump. Ferguson estimates it would cost OPA up to $20,000 per year to do so. While that may be true, one must also consider the current costs.
Dredged material is brought to the Swim & Racquet Club by contractor Fisher Marine. There it is offloaded on to OPA trucks and hauled to the drying area, formerly on Manklin Creek Road and now behind OPA Public Works in an area adjacent to the community gardens. After the material is dried it must then be loaded on trucks for use elsewhere in the Pines, much of it for backfill behind new bulkhead replacements. Ferguson says it is also available to pretty much anyone who needs soil. However, Ferguson maintains OPA needs that area behind Public Works whether the dredge material is hauled to the County Landfill or not. "We are going to need space for a variety of storage needs as Ocean Pines reaches buildout," Ferguson maintains.
Ultimately, the fate of the community gardens rests with the OPA Board of Directors. Relocation of the community gardens is a topic on the agenda of the board during their meeting of June 15. It is expected Director Tom Sandusky will make a motion to move the community gardens to Bainbridge Park.
Assuming such a motion is made, approval would be a mistake. The Community Gardens group should accept the Manklin Creek Road site, and that should be the position taken by the board. Why such a strong opinion? Even Fred Henderson says his group would settle for the Manklin Creek Road location. Case closed.
(Editor Note 6/15/2005 -- On motion by Dan Stachurski and passed by the board on 6/15/2005, the Community Gardens issue has been resolved, and the resolution accepted by the gardeners club. The gardens will be moved to the Manklin Creek Road site near the entrance to Manklin Meadows. The gardeners will pay for the move over a 20-year period. As I recall this will amount to gardners paying about $20 per year per plot.)