Apg To Detonate Sub Models In 'Bomb Pond' Near Bush River

June 16, 1991|By Samuel Goldreich | Samuel Goldreich,Staff writer

At least once a year, Harford waterman Bill Gunther pulls in a hard-shelled catch from the Bush River that he can't steam, fry or eat.

"With our crab pots, we pull up bombs," he said Wednesday while boating toward Chilbury Point on Aberdeen Proving Ground.

Stretching his arms wide, Gunther said, "Sometimes they're this long, and sometimes they're that long with fins and we have to call the Army to come get them."

Gunther, a Maryland Waterman's Association board director who lives north of APG along the river, sees the odd catch now and then as part of the price of keeping the Aberdeen peninsula free of development.

"We like Aberdeen Proving Ground," he said. "If it wasn't here, it would look like Joppatowne all the way."

But Gunther wonders about APG's plan for a 60-acre test-explosionpond next to the river. The $22 million project would create a pool 150 feet deep and 920 feet wide sealed off by a dirt berm barrier so that no water flows to the river.

In the pond, models of the Seawolf attack submarine would be blown up to test the strength of military hardware.

APG touts the plan as a boon to the environment that would help restore wetlands, break river shore erosion and spare the Gulf of Mexico off Key West, Fla., from open-water testing. But as Gunther considers APG plans to dredge a 700-foot channel for barges to carry equipment to the pond, he worries that it could interfere with his livelihood.

Harford watermen have to follow military orders to get into the Chesapeake Bay because part of the river is an APG artillery firing range.

"About 8 o'clock, they close off this river andtell me when I can come home," Gunther said. "Our biggest concern isthat they don't restrict egress on this river any more."

APG spokesman John Yaquiant said Friday that operation of the explosion pond would not further restrict river passage and could even improve it bydisplacing some firing tests to other parts of the base.

"There will be some reduced access -- we don't know how long yet -- during construction but we'll do everything we can to minimize it," he said.

Project planners have already cut the size of the dredging project by rerouting the channel to a deeper part of the river. The change will reduce the amount of spoil, or dredged-up river bottom, displaced from 500,000 square yards to about 75,000 square yards, Yaquiant said.

Those concerned about the project will have a chance to speak at7 p.m. Tuesday during a public hearing at the APG Chapel Center on the corner of Harford and Maryland boulevards.

County administrators had not decided Friday whether they would offer testimony.

During a briefing at APG Tuesday, outgoing base commander Maj. Gen. GeorgeH. Akin said the project would be given a thorough review for environmental safety before construction begins.

An assessment released by APG last month found that the project is "environmentally noncontroversial" and does not require a more stringent Environmental Impact Statement under federal Environmental Protection Agency guidelines.

Richard F. Pecora, an assistant secretary for the Maryland Department of the Environment, said during the APG briefing that the state would keep careful tabs on plans to dredge the Bush River.

The spoilfrom the river dredging and 1.9 million cubic yards of soil moved todig the pond would be used to create up to 100 acres of new wetlandson APG grounds and help shore up its coastline in severe areas of erosion.

"That's a good trade-off," said Tim McNamara, an APG environmental specialist who conducted the pond briefing.

Another concern is for the eagle population that makes the base its home. During a trip down the river Wednesday, at least two eagles circled over the construction site into a stand of trees immediately to the south.

The APG environmental assessment said the pond construction and test explosions -- about 40 a year -- would have virtually no impact on theeagles.

The closest eagle nest is at least 3,000 meters away, McNamara said.

APG faces questions about whether the Pentagon was trying to rush the project through without public review. Similar explosion tests were opposed during the 1980s by communities and environmentalists from Virginia to Florida.

The environmental report said the major factor behind the choice of the APG site was concern for the environment.

The report noted that explosion tests were suspended in the Chesapeake Bay in 1987 after massive fish kills, and later in the Gulf of Mexico off Key West after demonstrators shut down a planned operation.

The project faces a tight schedule to win state and federal permits so the Navy can begin testing by late summer 1992.

The Navy originally intended to begin construction of the APG pond next month but delayed the starting date to extend the public comment period by one month, or until June 28.

County Councilwoman TheresaM. Pierno, D-District C, questioned the timing of APG's notice to the county. A letter dated May 23 was sent to the county announcing that the public comment date would close May 30.

The Aberdeen representative, Councilman Phillip J. Barker, D-District F, said he was satisfied that APG has done a thorough job examining the environmental effects of the explosion pond.

But it could be a moot point.

"There's nothing that stands out as a serious problem," Bob Donald, the county's deputy public works director for environmental affairs, said Friday. "But the Army doesn't need our approval. The entire thing goes through the state permit process."

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