ANNAPOLIS -- State officials are trying to give a good name to the blue-gray sand and other muck they dredge from the shipping channels leading to the port of Baltimore.
This is stuff not to be despised and avoided or to hold one's nose over, they say, but useful material that can be put to work replenishing beaches, restoring eroding islands, improving wildlife habitats, or creating oyster bars or fishing reefs.
The stuff could even be taken out to Western Maryland to help reclaim mining areas or timberland, according to a report issued yesterday by a gubernatorial task force set up last July to review alternatives for disposing of dredged spoil.
"Don't necessarily think of it as that awful glop," said Robert D. Agee, an aide to Transportation Secretary O. James Lighthizer."We're trying to change the public perception of what it is."
The task force was composed of officials representing state transportation, natural resources, environmental and port agencies as well as environmental groups, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and others. It was created in part to quell the furor that arose last year over the state's plans to dump dredged spoil into a particularly deep part of the Chesapeake Bay between Annapolis and Kent Island known as the "deep trough."
Mr. Lighthizer said that recommendation has been abandoned, adding, "We don't even talk about it in polite company."
What the task force came up with was an approach to disposing of the estimated 75 million-100 million cubic yards of material to be dredged from the harbor approaches over the next 20 years, in a way that will be most beneficial to the bay. The report now goes to Gov. William Donald Schaefer.
Dredged material now is deposited behind dikes at the Hart-Miller Island containment area, just east of the Baltimore County shoreline, or dumped overboard in a nearby 15- to 20-mile stretch of the bay below Poole's Island.
"Most of the stuff in Hart-Miller shouldn't be there," Mr. Lighthizer said. "That's a tremendous waste of a resource."
Instead, the task force proposes that clean material dredged to keep the shipping channels at their authorized 50-foot depths be used for projects such as building up the eroded Poplar Islands, just south of the mouth of Eastern Bay, or Bodkin Island, located south of Kent Narrows.
"We believe this material is not just something to throw away," said George G. Perdikakis, a state environmental official and task force member.
Any spoil found to be contaminated would be put in a new containment area, to be selected from five sites along the shoreline of the Patapsco River first identified in a May 1990 Maryland Port Administration report.
The five sites are known as: B&O Kennecott; Thoms Cove; Dead Ship Anchorage; Masonville; and Sollers Point.
Mr. Perdikakis said the state and the Corps of Engineers hope to hold hearings and review the various sites, and to pick one within four or five years. He contrasted that to the 14 years it took to gain final approval for the Hart-Miller site.
Part of the plan also calls for increased monitoring of the spoil dumped into the bay south of Poole's Island to determine if it is "migrating" to other parts of the bay and if it has had a beneficial or detrimental effect on the bay or its fish.
"This is a new approach, and I think it is going to have a number of benefits to the bay," said Shannon Varner, a representative of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and a task force member. "It really is going to return a lot of benefits," he said, mentioning improved water quality, new fish and wildlife habitats, and a resulting increase in state tourism.