Having defeated FASTC, QACA must show leadership on jobs and economic recovery

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By Stephen Z. Meehan

News that the U.S. State Department had decided to move the FASTC project to another state was disappointing. Despite wide public support, State Department officials could not risk losing the FASTC project altogether to protracted litigation with Queen Anne’s Conservation Association, Inc. (“QACA”) with the Recovery Act expenditure clock ticking, even though they are knowingly establishing a “sue us and we will leave” precedent.

I disagree with Senator Mikulski that the process worked. How could it, when the process was hijacked before it could be completed? Gone are the 1,800-acre Bay Restoration component, hundreds of jobs, opportunities for local businesses including sheltered employment programs for the disabled, upgrades to the deadly 301/304 intersection, and broadband from Wye Mills to Elkton.

The FASTC demise is QACA’s crowning moment of an effort that started with their big wins in the 2002 County Commissioners’ election and has continued with the 2004 Commissioners’ board expansion and more success in the 2006 election. QACA has created a political environment that allowed them to rewrite the county’s economic story through legislation and litigation.

Unfortunately, the QACA economic plan has proven unsustainable. The results are a shrinking commercial tax base, stunted residential tax revenue, and growing public debt service. Yet, the FASTC departure only strengthens QACA’s grip on Queen Anne’s County.

The facts have not changed: unemployment and underemployment remain high, there is little local opportunity for high school graduates, and private investment is stagnant. While there is cheering in Ruthsburg, residents elsewhere ponder how to maintain our schools, roads, and public safety and meet the county’s school construction and public facilities agenda without meaningful economic development or increased taxes at a time when the folks at home cannot face another bill.

QACA’s victory over FASTC comes with it the responsibility to show leadership in creating jobs and meaningful economic growth without fear of a lawsuit so that our community has a broad tax base that supports the public’s demand for services without more tax burden.

Stephen Z. Meehan practices law in Chestertown and is spokesman for the Eastern Shore Leadership Council, a 501(c)(3) organization that works for sustainable local economies and job growth.
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