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Maryland Department of the Environment

eMDE: An Eastern Shore Home to Environmental Justice




An Eastern Shore Home to Environmental Justice

When University of Maryland Anthropology Research Professor Barbara Paca looks at the tiny, Talbot County waterfront town of Oxford, she sees the Eastern Shore’s most prominent nexus between environmental justice and climate change — two issues of paramount concern to the Maryland Department of the Environment.

More than a decade ago, Paca, an internationally recognized expert on landscape design, and her husband were looking for an ideal place for a second home to complement their careers in New York City. Friends recommended Oxford, once a bustling port for Eastern Shore trade.

Paca quickly fell in love with its culture of African Americans, watermen, and intellectuals from other places wanting to get away from it all.

The couple bought two adjoining properties on Mill Street, relocated a historic home atop raised earth and started renovating a building that had been a former jazz club. Using local workers left unemployed after the recession of 2008 and 2009, the building was transformed into a LEED gold structure with a green roof, solar panels, rainwater capture ducts and extensive use of reclaimed materials. The rainwater capture was part of Oxford’s effort to reduce polluted stormwater runoff into Town Creek, the Tred Avon River and the Chesapeake Bay.

The building also has a number of interesting historical items like tile stoves, doors from as far back as the 18th Century, and part of the floor removed from Read’s Drug Store in Baltimore City, the site of the nation’s first lunch counter sit-in strike in the early days of the civil rights movement.

After Paca realized her desire of also building a greenhouse and walkway at the site, it became known as the Oxford Think Tank and Preservation Green Design and Horticultural Research Center.

Now, Paca is on to bigger dreams. She says she wants to devote the 10 rooms and a conference room in the center for free use to researchers, artists, scientists and others involved in environmental justice and climate change issues and the culture of the Eastern Shore.

“If you need a space, we have it for you in a very creative setting,” Paca said. “I want to help the work being done by the Maryland Department of the Environment, the Department of Natural Resources and federal agencies like NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“I also want it to be used by those involved in African American research, art and equity issues. Another issue of major importance is making the Harriet Tubman and Underground Railroad trail a world heritage site because it is disappearing along with so many other things in this region due to climate change and rising sea levels,” Paca said.

The National Association of Secretaries of State honored Paca in October with an award for her work internationally and in Maryland in preserving the history and culture of communities of color. She also had an acclaimed art show recently at Morgan State University and St. Mary’s College that celebrated the work of artists from Antigua and Barbuda involved in environmental justice themes.

• Air, Land, Water – Did You Know?

Maryland launches Sewer Sentinel Initiative

Governor Larry Hogan has announced a statewide initiative to sample wastewater as an early warning system of a COVID-19 outbreak in vulnerable Maryland communities.

As part of Maryland’s COVID-19 Sewer Sentinel Initiative, Governor Hogan has approved funding of $1 million to sample wastewater for the virus that causes COVID-19 in congregate living settings. The Maryland Department of the Environment, in close coordination with the Maryland Department of Health, will lead the testing effort.

“Our COVID-19 Sewer Sentinel Initiative can provide early detection, which can save lives. Wastewater can tell a lot about the health and well being of communities and watersheds,” said Maryland Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles. “Assistant Secretary Suzanne Dorsey is leading the effort for MDE and making our state a shining example for the nation on cutting-edge science and partnership building for protecting public health.”

This next phase of the Sewer Sentinel Initiative builds upon information obtained during a pilot project that began this summer. The pilot project showed that wastewater sampling provided advanced notice of an outbreak before they were seen through traditional testing. Under the Sewer Sentinel Initiative, sampling results that show an increase of infections in congregant living settings will support an active state and local response to limit the spread of the disease.

More information on Maryland’s response to the COVID-19 emergency is available at

Recycling as art

Two students from Linganore High School in Frederick — Peyton Johnson and Tatum Hart— were online voters’ choices to win this year’s virtual “Rethink Recycling” student art show. Rethink Recycling challenges Maryland high school students to use recycled materials to create artistic and innovative sculptures.

The annual competition, which is normally held in person with judges at Montgomery Park Auditorium in Baltimore City, was conducted online this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Student artists around the state took photographs of the art they assembled from various recycled components and submitted them online to a virtual gallery. Winners were selected by online voting. Seventy artists participated and 350 votes were cast

Johnson’s entry, titled “Salvarnos” (Spanish for “save us”), depicts a blue throated macaw and was crafted from discarded cans, PVC pipe, and chicken wire frame previously used in old projects.

“There are many species of macaws that are critically endangered,” Johnson wrote in his entry. “I love these birds and never want them to go extinct.”

Hart’s entry, called “Where Some Sea Waste…,” is the figure of a crab crafted from an old set of camping utensils used by her family on trips and which she found in the bottom of a recycling container scheduled for pickup.

“As I have gotten older, I have become more aware of polluted waters and dying animals. I hope to inspire others to recycle and be mindful of their environmental impact,” Hart wrote.

Make your holidays green

Make sustainable holiday choices when you are shopping, sending cards, decorating, and choosing gifts. When you save energy and resources, you protect the environment and safeguard public health both now and for the future.

Here are some easy ways to make your holiday celebrations more sustainable:

Decorate with energy-efficient items. Consider using fewer or maybe even eliminating lights in your holiday decorations, or use more energy-efficient LED strings. Plug your decorative lights into a timer to save electricity. Decorate creatively and inexpensively with natural materials from your yard or with items you already own.

Contact the Maryland Christmas Tree Association to find out about trees grown in your area or trees grown in ways that keep forests healthy and safe. Have you considered a living tree you can plant outside or keep as a houseplant after the holidays? Don’t forget about tree disposal. Many areas offer special tree collections or drop offs that result in mulch for citizens.

Take your own bags on shopping trips. Keep them in the car so they’re always available. Consolidate those trips.

Give gifts that are durable, energy-efficient, recyclable or made of natural products.

Support your local economy by buying from local merchants, craft shows, or antique shops. Buy locally made or grown gifts.

Make your own gifts. Knit, sew, bake, build, or create art.

When wrapping gifts, be creative and reuse materials such as scarves, fabric, handkerchiefs, old maps, sheet music or comic pages. Deliver gifts in reusable tins or other home or garden items.

And for holiday meals, research sustainable food choices in your area, and buy locally whenever possible. Check out to find local farmers and seafood providers near you.

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To protect and restore the environment for the health and well-being of all Marylanders.


Maryland Department of the Environment, 1800 Washington Boulevard, Baltimore, MD 21230

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