Project: “(Don’t) Drain the Swamp: Resort Development, Wetlands Protection, and the Politics on Growth on the Delmarva Peninsula”

In the early 1970s, planned vacation home subdivisions proliferated across the coastal and rural US.  Land developers in this booming industry were notorious for defrauding consumers and violating federal, state, and local environmental regulations. Scandals involving planned resort developments prompted numerous lawsuits, investigations, and led to the creation of new environmental regulations and consumer protection agencies during the decade. At the local level, efforts to protect undeveloped rural and coastal areas from new developments gave rise to citizen-led, grassroots environmental activism even as it fueled a pro-growth, anti-regulatory backlash that would come to shape environmental politics in the US for decades to come.  This project tells the story of two such planned vacation home subdivisions on the Delmarva peninsula—one completed, the other prevented—in the early 1970s.  It examines the factors that allowed for the completion of Captain’s Cove in Accomack County, Va., in 1971, and the forms of consumer fraud and lasting environmental damage inflicted by its developers.  It then contrasts that with the prevention of a similar, larger-scale project in neighboring Worcester County, Md., dubbed Harbour Towne, two years later.  Through examining court records and interviews with some of the key participants in the legal and regulatory battle over Harbour Towne, it seeks to uncover the local origins of modern environmental activism and document the economic and environmental impact of “coastal capitalism” (and efforts to slow its advance) on the Delmarva peninsula today.

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The Conservatory