Dorchester couple plan bay route

FIGHTING FOR A FERRY

April 30, 1995|By Dail Willis | Dail Willis,Eastern Shore Bureau of The Sun

TAYLORS ISLAND -- Standing on his rural property at the westernmost tip of Dorchester County, Paul A. Tobin can see the Chesapeake. In his mind's eye, he can see something else.

He hopes to pilot a ferry someday on an 11.5-mile route linking his land in Dorchester with Calvert County in Southern Maryland.

Before him is the bay. Behind him is an ocean of paperwork.

He has been pursuing the permits and approvals he needs since 1988.

"I've been working on tugboats and ships all my life -- always having to be gone," said the 37-year-old father of five. "My wife was always trying to come up with an idea where we could stay together as a family."

The ferry was, in fact, Trina Tobin's idea. Pursuing that idea has taken the couple on an extensive journey through federal, state and local bureaucracies and given them a lesson in local politics as well. They've invested thousands of hours and, said Mrs. Tobin, "every spare dime we've got."

But the ferry has opposition.

"People on Taylors Island feel this will detract from their quality of life," explained Steve Dodd, director of planning for Dorchester County. "You don't pass through Taylors Island to get to somewhere -- it's a destination in itself."

Opposition also has come from the Western Shore. Opponents living in the area of Calvert County where the Tobins first planned to dock their ferry forced the landowner to withdraw from his agreement.

So Mr. Tobin found a second site: the Harbor Island Marina. As planned, the ferry would leave his Eastern Shore property, travel southwest across the Chesapeake and around Drum Point, docking at the marina at the mouth of the Patuxent River. The marina is part of the Solomons harbor, which has more than 2,000 boat slips, Mr. Tobin said.

The ferry plan is on hold, but the Tobins aren't giving up.

A marine engineer at Bethlehem Steel's BethShip in Sparrows Point, Mr. Tobin makes the five-hour round-trip commute to Baltimore to his job, working on the ferry plan as time permits. His wife presides over a household that includes four children, 40 assorted animals and occasional visitors, including an adult daughter and a grandchild. She also occasionally operates a backhoe to fill and clear part of their property, where they eventually plan to build a house to replace the trailer they live in.

"From the time we got married, we were constantly thinking of something we could do and stay together as a family," Mrs. Tobin said.

The idea of a ferry came to her in 1987 after she and her husband rode a ferry in Mobile, Ala., her home town. At the time, he was working in the Bahamas -- "$1.15 a minute to talk on the phone," said Mrs. Tobin, 38.

His work on the water as a marine engineer and machinist-foreman has taken him all over the country, he said. Brownsville, Texas. Tampa, Fla. Mobile, Ala. Baltimore.

Longtime interest in Shore

His interest in the Eastern Shore predated his career, he said. He came to the Shore while a student at the Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, N.Y. He rowed on the school's team, and competed in a regatta in Chestertown.

When he graduated and wanted to buy some waterfront property, he came back.

"I thought it was nice to have something that wasn't so crowded," he said. He took a bus from his hometown of Boston to Annapolis, then "rented a bike and went looking at property." He chose the nearly 6 acres on Taylors Island he now owns, and bought it in 1980.

Their dream of running a ferry moved the Tobins from Mobile to Taylors Island in 1990. They had begun investigating how to set one up while still in Mobile, and in March 1988, Mr. Tobin called the Dorchester County zoning office.

It was the beginning of a very long process.

"There's numerous layers of government involved in this project," said Mr. Dodd, the Dorchester County planning official. "You have to put the pieces of the puzzle together yourself. Paul worked fairly diligently from the beginning."

After the call to the zoning office, Mr. Tobin got a three-page letter explaining "what we'd have to do," he said. He went to work, and by November 1988 he'd gotten approval for the Dorchester County portion of the plan.

Traffic a problem

Taylors Island opponents say they're concerned that the infrastructure, particularly the bridge across Slaughter Creek that ferry customers would use, is not up to the projected traffic demands.

"The majority of us who are opposed to the project are not opposed to a ferry," said Bill Neild, a lifelong resident of the rural community. "If we got a new bridge, raised and widened roads and some traffic control, it would be a lot easier to swallow."

Mr. Neild pointed to Taylors Island's rural nature. It's sparsely populated land that juts into the Chesapeake Bay in western Dorchester County and is so remote that "a lot of people refer to it as the end of the world," Mr. Neild said.

"The immediate nightmare on everybody's mind is a Holiday Inn sprouting on the island," Mr. Neild said. "We can picture the island evolving into another Kent Island."

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