Volume 15, Issue 7 ~ February 15 - February 21, 2007

Anne Arundel’s Bottomless Pit

A dredging plan that would put a parade of dump trucks on idyllic roads has people up in arms

by Sandra Olivetti Martin

When government steps into your backyard, it can feel like Bigfoot has tramped on your flower garden.

Or maybe Big Brother.

These cold winter days, nobody can tell you more about how Bigfooting feels than the villagers of Fairhaven.

Their deep southern Anne Arundel County village — a string of communities and homes along Fairhaven and Town Point roads, each with distinct histories, identities and names — has endured into the 21st century as a fairly safe harbor, a Fair Haven, against the winds of change.

But villagers fear their Fair Haven won’t last much longer, for its scenic and historic roads are Anne Arundel County’s planned route to its bottomless pit.

The pit, Anne Arundel County’s Town Point Dredge Material Placement Site, is the kind of bright idea that makes county planners and consultants smack high-fives of delight. Constructed to the most righteous environmental standards, it gains its vast capacity not by depth or width but by reusabilility.

The problem with landfills — and that acronymic DMP is a kind of landfill — is that they fill up. Town Point never would, at least not until 2023, the end of the county’s lease on the nine-acre site.

That’s because for year after year for five, 10, even 15 years, the DMP’s muck would be trucked out after it’s dried, as still more is trucked in.

In citizens’ reading, the plan is not fatally flawed. It puts on peaceful little roads in the most protected classification of the Bay’s Critical Area Zone a procession of dump trucks approximating traffic during northern Virginia mall construction.

A dump truck will shake, rattle and roll down 2.7 miles of rustic road into a Resource Conservation Area every six minutes for every daylight hour of 100 summer and autumn days.

That’s 3,500 annual round-trip heavy truck trips from 2008 until who knows when.

Locals, among them Joe Browder, say Whoa!

Browder, a Washington consultant who’s helped people across the country avoid environmental catastrophes, observed last week at the county’s only scheduled hearing that the plan “would make life miserable for almost everyone in our neighborhoods.”

Browder, who has an eye for the big picture, predicted the trucks would so damage rural roads that repair would become the rationale for new infrastructure, paving the way for major development along the Bay.

“It would violate every principle that the county and state governments claim is important to the protection of Chesapeake Bay and make a mockery of the years of work that all our communities put into Small Area Planning,” he said.

When Browder finished, his neighbors — many of them organized as Advocates for Herring Bay — clapped. Then they rose to poke more holes in the plan.

Yet given other demands along Chesapeake Bay, they’ve no small task in running the plan off their roads.

All Mucked Up

“The truck-and-dozer method is only cheaper if you assign no value to the environment and the quality for life in the community,” Fairhavener Paul Rensted testified. “Zero is the wrong answer for that value.”

Yet to other eyes, Town Point DMP is a perfect plan. It satisfies an approved need, brings big money into the county and maximizes a scarce resource.

The need is dredging. Muck is the curse that comes with Anne Arundel’s wealth of land-surrounded water. Muck is pollution choking the life out of waterways, burying oyster beds, suffocating underwater grasses. Muck keeps people and their boats out of the water.

At the hearing last week, voices cracked with emotion as citizens from Broadwater and Carrs creeks — north of Fairhaven above Herring Bay — spoke of dredging as their lifeline.

“We’ve been promised dredging since before World War II,” said Paul Rickett, speaking for the Broadwater Creek Coalition.

Echoed Lisa Moore of Carrs Creek: “We’re all but silted in.”

Bill Conlyn and others who make their living off the water have economic reasons to hate silt.

“I can’t get my tow boat in the water except at high tide,” said Conlyn, who has the local Boat US towing franchise and blames poor county oversight of the last Town Point dredging project for the buildup.

For commercially navigable waterways all across America — including the approach channel to the Port of Baltimore through Chesapeake Bay — the Army Corps of Engineers spends tens of millions of federal tax dollars every year on dredging.

Counties do their own dredging, although the state helps them pay for most of the work through the Waterways Improvement Fund, which collects about $32 million each year, most of it from the five percent excise tax you pay on any boat you buy.

To keep Anne Arundel County’s creeks and rivers open, dredging “works like an operation, and it has to keep moving forward,” consultant Keith Tate told citizens at the hearing.

Tate’s company, Bayland Consultants and Designers, is regularly hired by the county to carry out the dredging plan it first writes.

In 2006, the state Waterways Improvement Fund paid Bayland Consultants and Designers $130,000 for engineering Town Point DMP.

This year, $800,000 from the Waterway Improvement Fund — 100 percent of the project’s cost — is budgeted to be spent to dig Town Point’s bottomless pit.

That’s the second reason Town Point DMP seems like a planner’s perfect plan.

“If we can use state money on county projects, we’d be foolish not to take advantage,” Ed Reilly, Anne Arundel County’s southern councilman, told Bay Weekly.

Spoiling Fairhaven

Town Point DMP also helps county public works planners maximize a scarce resource. Big dredging projects can yield enough spoils to make an island, which is how Poplar Island, off Tilghman Island, is being recreated, from the muck dredged up from the Bay’s approach channels to Baltimore.

Anne Arundel County puts its muck in holes — though it calls them the fancier name of Dredge Material Placement Sites. Town Point has been a small DMP since the late 1980s. Five other DMPs — one in Glen Burnie, two in Pasadena, one at Beverly Triton Beach in Mayo and one in Shady Side — are almost full.

Expanding the Town Point site — with its long-term lease from Ned Crandall, who has long owned nearby Town Point Marina, as well — solves a problem for the county even as it creates a new one for people who live nearby.

First, it’s an already allowed use in the highly restricted Critical Areas, so no further permitting is necessary. Thus miles of red tape are cut.

Second, it provides hard-to-find waterfront access. That cuts transportation costs for dredge spoils barged or hydraulically piped to the site — as it will be when surrounding Town Point Cove is dredged this autumn.

What worries locals is the plan to keep Town Point working as a regional site, with spoils from creeks far to the north trucked in and out of the Fairhaven area bottomless pit.

The Waterways Improvement Fund 2008 budget includes partial state funding for two community creeks above Herring Bay: Carrs Creek in Deale Beach and Broadwater Creek in Churchton. In the county plan, other creeks — including Warehouse Creek on the South River and Whitehall above the Severn River — are already standing in line.

One year, 3,500 round-trip truck trips bring their muck in; the next year, dewatered, it goes out — in 3,500 more in-and-out truck trips. The third year, the cycle starts all over again, with new muck from a new creek.

“From the standpoint of the community, public safety is the dominant issue,” says Kathy Gramp, president of Advocates for Herring Bay. “But at the end of the day, the Critical Area dominates. A backdoor upgrade of this intense use threatens the integrity of the program. It’s as if you allow people to put up a lemonade stand and then they’re making Snapple.”

Give and Take: Capping the Pit

County councilman Ed Reilly, who waited until the end of the day to have his say, doesn’t have to worry about dredging in Crofton, where he comes from.

But with all of Southern Anne Arundel to speak for, he has constituents who do worry.

“It’s hard to say no to constituents and money,” he said. So for the constituents up to here in silt, he’s made a commitment to dredging. “The real rub is truck traffic in neighborhoods,” he added. Thus for Fairhaveners, he’s standing against endless truck traffic.

Moving toward a plan, Reilly contemplates a five-year life, long enough for projects on the short list, for Town Point DMP. “We might cap it and make a park for bird watching, which one fellow said was good. Maybe the county should buy the property,” he said.

While Reilly — one of the seven council people who hold the purse strings on Anne Arundel projects — pushes a solution with county public works, Maryland Department of the Environment deals the next hand.

That’s deciding whether to approve the three permits pending to dredge Town Point Cove, which in essence reopens the DMP. If that decision is contested, approval could ultimately bump up to the State Board of Public Works. That heavy-hitting board has taken a sharp pro-environment turn now that Democrats Gov. Martin O’Malley and Comptroller Peter Franchot join Treasurer Nancy Kopp.

Anne Arundel’s bottomless pit may never get that far. County Executive John Leopold has weighed in, saying “the Department of Public Works is sensitive to community concerns and is working to strike a balance between those concerns and the overall importance of the dredging project.”

Ideally that balance might send spoils by barge rather than truck, limit Town Point to spoils from southern creeks, then cap and replant the DMP. New DMPs might then have to be for all the dredge of spoils from other creeks.

“I would love this to have a happy ending — not just for the community,” says Advocate Gramp. “It’s a chance for everybody to come out looking good, for Anne Arundel County to be a model, just like Maryland was when we went from dumping spoils in the open Bay to rebuilding Poplar Island.”

© COPYRIGHT 2007 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.