Jim Leyda has been fishing off the old Severn River Bridge since 1939, driving from Germantown to Annapolis to take advantage of one of the few public crabbing holes that can be reached within easy driving distance.
He was fishing again Saturday, out since 5:30 a.m., and already he had a bushel of crabs to take home to his family. But he got caught up in more than fishing as the morning hours wore on.
About 10 a.m., 75 protesters marched up and down the bridge, carrying signs and shouting their displeasure with state plans to tear down the drawbridge and replace it with an 80-foot-high structure.
Leyda and his fishing partner, John Vidmosko, also of Germantown, werepleased with the show. "I think it's pretty cool, because I don't want to lose my crabbing place," Vidmosko said.
Since it would be tough to throw a line into the water from 80 feet in the air, most fisherman lining both sides of the bridge agreed with the protesters. "I would be pretty upset if they tore this bridge down," Leyda said.
That would have been an understatement for some of the protesters, most of whom live near the bridge that leads southbound motorists past a scenic overlook and into the historic district near the Naval Academy.
"If people want to speed up and go 50 miles per hour, they cango right over there," said Sue Nassif, pointing to the Severn River Bridge, which carries U.S. 50 across the river. "This is the entranceto historic Annapolis. It is too beautiful to destroy."
The statehas wanted to replace the bridge since 1984. Recent plans show an arcing bridge standing 80 feet above the water at its highest point andcosting $40 million. The design has been approved, and the state is ready to begin construction.
Residents say they know a new bridge needs to be built, but maintain the state should build it using the same design as the original, which stands 15 feet above the river.
They say approaches to the bridge proposed by the state would harm nearby wetlands, because the span would have to start thousands of feetoffshore. They also complain it would give motorists a raceway into the city, destroying the beauty of the capital city's gateway.
Some protesters said a new bridge could be built slightly higher to allow more boats to go under without having to raise the drawbridge. But they are adamant that the style be the same as the current structure.
"We want a people's bridge, not a politician's bridge," said Bonnie Abbott, who has lived in Annapolis for 50 years.
Beth Slikker, an aide for County Councilwoman Maureen Lamb, said the state transportation department has $32 million in federal grant money to pay for the bridge, and will be seeking more money later this month when statelegislators meet in special session.
Opponents of the bridge hopethey can convince legislators to withhold the additional money untila new design is selected.
Not everyone agreed with the protesters. Issac Johnson Sr., who was trying to drive home but was stuck in traffic waiting for the drawbridge to close, said he is delayed there several times a day. He wants the 80-foot-high bridge built soon.
"This is a nuisance," he said while waiting in his car. "It's dirty --all these fisherman come and they don't even clean up the mess."