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The Naval Support Activity South Potomac (NSASP) Community Relations (COMREL) Council held its quarterly meeting Feb. 12 at Jaycees in Waldorf, where military and community leaders discussed the economic impact of Naval Support Facilities (NSFs) Dahlgren and Indian Head, the future of military activities in southern Maryland, the prospects of a Potomac River ferry, fisheries in the Potomac River and the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) Charles Composite Squadron.

Capt. Pete Nette, commanding officer of NSASP, greeted attendees and thanked the young men and women of the CAP Charles Composite Squadron for their expert presentation of the colors. Nette also thanked Charles County and Jaycees for hosting the COMREL Council.

Since 2010, the NSASP COMREL Council has brought military leaders from Naval Support Facilities (NSFs) Dahlgren and Indian Head together with civilian leadership from Charles County, King George County, the Town of Indian Head and Colonial Beach. “The group continues to grow and that’s encouraging because it shows that we continue to work closely together,” said Nette.

Nette highlighted the economic impact of NSFs Dahlgren and Indian Head in the region. The bases provide more than 10,000 jobs and add $1.6 billion into the local economies through payroll and contracts.

Joint Land Use Studies that help coordinate the future growth of Dahlgren and Indian Head with local communities are ongoing, said Nette. Several projects, such as the one that will extend a transmission line to Dahlgren and another that will replace Indian Head’s aging power plant, are also underway.

In the case of NSF Indian Head’s Goddard Power Plant, a fire recently led to extended power outages on the installation in the midst of cold winter weather. First responders and others from local communities provided critical support to the base during the incident. “I want to thank you for that,” said Nette. “We appreciate it.”

Potomac River Fisheries Commission Report

Martin Gary, executive secretary of the Potomac River Fisheries Commission (PRFC), briefed the COMREL Council about his organization’s history and purpose, as well as the state of fisheries on the Potomac. The communities represented on the COMREL Council are a “mosaic” of the regional communities that have a stake in the vitality of the river, said Gary.

NSFs Dahlgren and Indian Head manage extensive stretches of Potomac River shoreline and have recently completed or started projects to protect the river and its fisheries.

Established by Maryland and Virginia in 1958 to put an end to decades of sometimes violent confrontations over oyster harvesting, the PRFC’s purpose is to conserve and improve the resources of the tidal Potomac. The commission regulates recreational and commercial fishing, crabbing, clamming and oyster harvesting in the tidal Potomac.

Gary detailed the modern challenges facing the Potomac River and the fisheries it supports, such as excessive nutrients in runoff and sedimentation. Weather events, like Hurricane Agnes in 1972 or episodes of heavy rain and runoff called freshets, also threaten the river with “biological devastation,” said Gary. “Additional challenges are terrestrial. Everything on land flows into the river, into the watershed. Urban sprawl, land planning, deforestation and impervious [paved] surfaces are a huge thing.”

Pollutants that arrive in the river are then bio-accumulated into the natural food chain, which in turn threatens the vitality of fishery. Gary also emphasized the importance of protecting river tributaries, which serve as nurseries for several vital species.

Invasive species like blue catfish and the infamous snakehead also impact fisheries, though they also offer opportunity to watermen. “They’re exploding in terms of their abundance,” said Gary. “Fortunately, they’re very good to eat.”

Local food retailers have already begun offering locally-harvested, albeit invasive species in seafood departments. “We’re trying to remove as many of these animals as possible and you can do your share by buying some blue catfish,” said Gary. “It helps the fishermen; it helps the ecosystem.”

While some fisheries in the Potomac River watershed are on the mend, further restoration work is needed for species like striped bass and shad. With a small budget and a lot of responsibility, the PRFC is seeking philanthropic individuals and organizations to help it with its mission. Donations go toward things like the collection of oyster shells, which provide habitat for spat, or juvenile oysters.

For more information about the PRFC, visit http://prfc.us/.

Southern Maryland Vision 2020

Robert Kavetsky, president and executive director of the Energetics Technology Center, discussed his organization’s work to enhance the area’s expertise in energetics, as well as Southern Maryland Vision 2020, an initiative to foster a “technology-driven economy.” The goal of the initiative, created by Maryland Delegate John Bohanan Jr., is to diversify science and engineering activities in the region, while also “anchoring” federal facilities in southern Maryland.

The Department of Defense spends $3.3 billion in southern Maryland; Charles, Calvert and St, Mary’s counties already boast nearly 2,000 active patents. Many of those patents originate from members of Navy organizations. “These are residents of the three counties who work at [NSF] Indian Head, [Naval Air Station] Patuxent River, the Naval Research Lab, or [NSF] Dahlgren,” said Kavetsky. “So it’s not surprising to realize we have a large body of intellectual capital in this region.”

Kavetsky emphasized the importance the initiative places on education in the region. “There’s a critical piece that the educational institutions-specifically the University of Maryland-play in this initiative,” he said. “There’s a lot of [discussion] going on right now between the University of Maryland and leadership in southern Maryland about the university becoming a more active partner and participant in activities here in our region.”

As part of the Southern Maryland Vision 2020 job diversification effort, the Energetics Technology Center recently launched TechFire, an “incubator” program to support tech innovators and entrepreneurs. “These are people who have an idea, but don’t really know what the market is for their idea,” said Kavetsky. “These are technical folks by and large. the focus of this incubator is growing new, high technology companies in the region.”

Northern Virginia Regional Commission Commuter Ferry

Mark Gibb, executive director of the Northern Virginia Regional Commission, discussed the preliminary results of a study examining the proposed commuter ferry service on the Potomac River. “We learned from out stakeholder meetings that there are many opportunities and strengths and policy issues that we have,” said Gibb. “The biggest issue that we have is that some people don’t really understand that the river is an opportunity for transportation. They don’t perceive it, that it is the last remaining [transportation] corridor in Washington D.C. that is not being utilized.”

The study examined several market areas along the Potomac River and conducted more than 1,200 phone interviews. “We have a huge opportunity, but in reality it is going to start small,” said Gibb.

One finding of the survey was that the people currently using public transportation were not likely to use the ferry. However, those currently commuting by car would consider using a ferry service. The study found that several areas, such as Alexandria, southwestern Washington, Reagan National Airport and Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, could support a non-subsidized ferry service and produce a profit.

Gibb emphasized that a Potomac River Ferry Service would not consist of large ferries seen in some locales; rather, it would consist of smaller ferries capable of transporting approximately 50 passengers. The service would be frequent, said Gibb, running about every 15 minutes, seven days a week, for an average fare of $8.

Gibb expected the final report for the proposed ferry service to be completed next month.

Civil Air Patrol, Charles Composite Squadron

Capt. Carlos Montague, commander of the CAP Charles Composite Squadron, and Capt. Dennis Chappell, deputy commander for seniors of the CAP Charles Composite Squadron, briefed the COMREL Council about their organization’s service to the community and young people.

Federally chartered in 1947, the CAP serves as the civilian auxiliary to the U.S. Air Force. The CAP is comprised of 65,000 professional volunteers and operates the largest fleet of Cessna aircraft in the world.

Montague and Chappell helped found the Charles Composite Squadron in 2011; like all CAP squadrons, it supports aerospace education, emergency services and cadet programs.

In addition to having fun, CAP cadets learn leadership skills, aerospace knowledge, physical fitness, emergency skills and character development. Approximately 10-percent of new cadets at the U.S. Air Force Academy come from the CAP.

Headquartered at Maryland Airport in Indian Head, the Charles Composite Squadron has 50 members and is the fastest growing squadron in Maryland. Cadets and senior members of the Charles Composite Squadron spend much time training for and participating in search and rescue missions. The squadron spent 2,106 hours participating in 13 missions in 2013, resulting in five “finds” and one life saved.

The CAP Charles Composite Squadron is looking for new members and donors to support its diverse missions. For more information, visit www.charlescap.org.