Vol. 8, No. 46
Nov. 16-22, 2000
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In Safeway Saga, the EPA Weighs In

Call it the "Safeway Saga of Southern Anne Arundel."

It's part tragedy, part comedy. It's brimming with the hopes of folks who feel they're entitled to more conveniences in their lives. It's chock full of despair on the part of people who fear that if the supermarket giant has its way, sleepy Deale will look like another cookie-cutter crossroads in Waldorf, or even Tyson's Corner. All in all, it's our local second feature to this fall's national drama about who'll be our next president.

When Anne Arundel County gave approval to Safeway's shopping center plan last week, it added another act to this long-running drama. Call it "The Big Flip-Flop," marking a 360-degree reversal from the county's ruling nearly a year ago that the project was environmentally destructive to sensitive land.

But every play has intrigue, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency injected a large dose of it in what looked to be the final act. Last week, on the eve of the county's approval, the EPA asked the Army Corps of Engineers to revoke an earlier wetlands permit that enabled the project to go forward.

"The EPA is extremely concerned that the proposed strip mall will impact wetlands of important ecological value on a site that is, in part, within the Chesapeake Bay Critical Area," reads the EPA letter to the Corps.

The letter from the nation's pre-eminent environmental authority is a big deal, although it remains to be seen whether it's a show-stopper. The Corps of Engineers is a notoriously pro-development agency that is currently ensnared in scandals from Baltimore to the Mississippi River.

It's widely known that the EPA and the rest of the Clinton Administration has been trying to rein in the Corps, which has been carrying on as a rogue agency despite being part of the executive branch.

Perhaps - though not likely - the Corps is so concerned about its reputation that it will look seriously at its 12-year-old Safeway wetlands permit. Perhaps - and this is more likely - the presidential vote count in Florida will determine how much pressure the Corps will feel in the coming months.

There's mystery, too, and one is why the county gave its approval even though the EPA entered the case.

So the Safeway Saga continues. Who knows? We could be heading toward a surprise ending.

Copyright 2000
Bay Weekly