By Erica Quinones
The Student Government Association hosted the third and final installment of the “We Love This Place” panel series on Wednesday, Nov. 18.
The final installment regarded environmental stewardship, featuring ShoreRivers Director of Community Engagement and Environmental Committeemember Darran White Tilghman; President of the Downtown Chestertown Association and Environmental Committeemember Andy Goddard ’73; ShoreRiver Chester River Keeper and Environmental Committeemember Tim Trumbauer; and Assistant Director of the Eastern Shore Food Lab and Interim Director of Sustainability and Regenerative Living Shane Brill ’03 M’11.
Panelists began by speaking on the different environmental challenges that the Eastern Shore faces and initiatives they have taken to address those challenges.
ShoreRivers protects and restores waterways across the Eastern Shore, establishing water quality monitoring stations throughout the Chester, Choptank, Miles, Wye, and Sassafras rivers, as well as the Bayside Creeks and Eastern Bay.
According to Tilghman, ShoreRivers’s big picture is that these rivers are polluted, and that pollution is almost entirely nutrient and sediment.
The presence of nutrient and sediment pollutants means the pollution both comes from the Eastern Shore’s watershed and is beneficial on land as fertilizer.
ShoreRivers undertakes restoration projects, like installing buffers, to prevent run-off water from carrying pollutants into the rivers.
“All these projects we know are working, because our rockstar River Keepers are monitoring the water regularly, we’ve got the science that says this stuff is working, and we are seeing all these incredible cross benefits. These projects encourage native pollinators and songbirds and beautiful native plants, so we can see this really quick rebounding of these natural resilience systems,” Tilghman said.
Trumbauer added that another issue that Eastern Shore waterways are facing is climate change, especially regarding flooding on High Street, in Wilmer Park, and in the Marina parking lot.
“You couldn’t go into 98 Cannon…at high-tide a couple years ago because the waters have risen so much. That’s just another issue we’re facing at ShoreRivers and that our town will be facing for years into the future as sea level continues to rise,” Trumbauer said.
Goddard drew back to the local effects of environmental stewardship in Chestertown. She discussed the importance of the Chester River in driving economic vitality.
While there is work to be done, Goddard added that Chestertown has taken steps to address the environmental crisis, including passing ordinances regarding plastic bags and cardboard recycling, creating a program where businesses could swap their fluorescent lights for LEDs, and rejecting the presence of Walmart.
The conversation moved towards issues of environmental injustice on the Eastern Shore, or the disproportionately negative effects of climate change on minority communities.
Tilghman noted the connectedness of current crises, including the COVID-19 pandemic, the climate crisis, and the awakening to racial and social injustices.
“Those are one problem with the same cause, and that cause is the extraction mentality,” Tilghman said.
Brill expanded Tilghman’s comment, saying, “Our extraction culture is based upon our separateness from the natural world…when in fact we inhabit the environment, and the environment inhabits us.”
“What we experience in the health of our bodies appears in the health of the Chester River and beyond, and this percolates all the way through social justice issues. Everything is connected,” Brill said.
The issue of gentrification also arose, as Goddard said there is a desire for more Black-owned businesses in downtown Chestertown. She added that there were once multiple Black-owned businesses on Cannon Street, but they have since closed.
Tilghman connected the gentrification partially to waterfront properties’ changing perception. When waterfront properties lost their mercantile image and became desirable for recreation, Black-owned businesses were pushed away from those properties.
Many of those communities were pushed to forested wetlands, according to Tilghman, which are targeted for pipelines and polluting industries, because the communities present have fewer resources to combat their development.
Brill emphasized another area of environmental injustice, food insecurity.
He suggested that by imagining the Delmarva peninsula as an island which could be food sovereign — meaning they produce all the food they require — they can improve soil fertility, decrease food waste, increase biodiversity, and restore natural landscapes.
On a structural level, there was also conversation about diversity within environmental steward organizations.
Both Tilghman and Trumbauer discussed the importance of expanding networks to address more diverse perspectives and experiences.
“I’ve watched the approach of ShoreRivers evolve in a good way,” Trumbauer said. “What I think we’ve realized is that humans are tribal, and if you reach out to another tribe, you’ll have limited success. If it’s really about expanding our tribe and making our tribe more diverse [it’s] more successful.”
Another aspect of the conversation is the relationship between WC and Chestertown. While Brill spoke about students’ ideas invigorating College initiatives, panelists said students can also be environmental stewards by advocating for initiatives like planting native plants on the College Green, supporting local farmers, and bringing interdisciplinary thinking to environmentalism.
“Power concedes nothing without a demand, so I urge all students, if you want something, demand it,” Brill said. “You have so much power. Take it. Run with it. Have fun with it.”