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Judith Stribling has kept a watchful eye on Maryland’s Eastern Shore for the better part of the last 30 years. She has sat across the table from countless farmers, foresters, politicians, …
Judith Stribling has kept a watchful eye on Maryland’s Eastern Shore for the better part of the last 30 years. She has sat across the table from countless farmers, foresters, politicians, environmental advocates and every-day citizens to find solutions to the biggest environmental threats to the region.
“There was a time where I saw environmental advocacy as fighting the bad guys,” said Stribling, a Professor Emeritus in Biological Studies at Salisbury University.
“In reality, there aren’t too many bad guys, if any,” she said. “Everybody's trying to do what they feel needs to be done to make things work in their arena, and a lot of times the problems are as much a misunderstanding as anything else.”
Soon after completing her doctorate degree in Marine Restoration and Environmental Sciences from University of Maryland Eastern Shore, Stribling was hired as a wetland ecologist through Salisbury University, working primarily with students collecting research in the field.
“I had my students doing research with me as well,” she said. “So I've done everything from studying phragmites at Assateague with my students, to looking at the forest structure on Delmarva, and then the Creekwatcher program was a big part of my student-led scientific endeavor.”
She went on to detail her work leading the Wicomico Creekwatchers program at Salisbury University, which allows students to monitor water quality throughout 22 different sites countywide. The group has released numerous comprehensive reports on the county’s water quality in the two decades since its inception.
“It's a great program, and it's gotten even stronger by far. It was a nice way to involve students [in research] as much as they wanted,” she said. “They could work processing samples in the lab and we went out once a month to collect their research.”
Along with her work leading the Wicomico Creekwatchers, Stribling served as president of the Friends of the Nanticoke River for many years, a nonprofit environmental advocacy group striving to protect the natural resources of the Nanticoke River watershed.
Through her efforts at Salisbury University and Friends of the Nanticoke River, she began working with the Wicomico Environmental Trust, another environmentally oriented nonprofit, in the early 2000s to make suggestions for the county’s new growth criteria.
“We were partnering with WET and other groups to try to establish some criteria for growth in Wicomico County. We did a big public opinion poll in the early 2000’s, and it was pretty clear that the people in Wicomico County did not see growing as a priority, they saw quality of life as a priority – and quality of life and growth typically don't go hand-in-hand,” Stribling said.
“So we lobbied hard for measures to control the sprawled development that was eating up the landscape in Wicomico County during those early 2000s.”
Stribling went on to say the rapidly multiplying development of the county slowed after the economic recession in 2008, but even now, she feels improving quality of life is still a priority for many Wicomico residents.
In 2016, under Stribling’s seal of approval, the Wicomico Creekwatchers program began to merge with WET to blend their goals of distributing scientific research on the county’s waterways and organizing grassroots volunteer efforts.
As noted above, Stribling feels the community’s differing environmental goals are often more aligned than groups might realize – but regardless, she said there are many environmental topics for which it’s crucial to “really raise the hue and cry.”
Stribling has been an outspoken opponent against the storage of dissolved air flotation tanks – also known as slurry or sludge tanks–in parts of Wicomico closely neighboring residential areas. In the case of the 3-million-gallon sludge tank located on the corner of Porter Mill and Riggin Roads near Hebron, countless neighbors have complained of the foul stench of decomposing animal remains that emanates from the wastewater tank.
In a 2021 documentary detailing the dangers presented by the Hebron DAF tank, Stribling warned if the tank were to leak, it could risk contaminating the underground Columbia aquifer, which serves as the main water source for Wicomico, Dorchester and Worcester counties.
“[The Columbia aquifer] is described by the Maryland Geological Survey as being a very good water source, but also extremely vulnerable to pollution. Without any containment or spill control, it’s really asking for trouble,” she said in the documentary.
Stribling said it could be useful to move the tanks into industrial zones, but she admits this has potential to present other issues due to the county’s fraught zoning regulations.
“Some people want the tanks in the industrial zones, which makes sense to me, because that's where you put things that are potentially a nuisance to neighborhoods or risk to the environment, you put them in industrial zoning. But other people said, ‘No, that's going to be too close to neighborhoods,’ because we've done such a crummy job of planning our neighborhoods,” she said. “I think that's a failure of zoning, not a failure of this proposal. So, you know, I say, put them in the industrial zone and make your industrial zone, an industrial zone, for real. And if there are neighborhoods near there, figure out a way to fix that problem.”
Late last year, however, the Wicomico County Council voted to limit the storage of DAF tanks throughout the county, with an exception only for liquid organic fertilizers stored by farmers on agriculturally zoned land.