The planned 80-foot-high Severn River bridge would irreparably harm the river and the fragile lands surrounding it, opponents fighting tostop the span said yesterday.
Continuing their 11th-hour bid to block construction of the crossing, about 100 opponents turned out fora 4 1/2-hour hearing before the state Department of Natural Resources.
DNR staff members and a department hearing officer will consider the testimony before deciding whether to recommend approval of a planto replace about one-quarter acre of tidal wetlands that would be displaced by construction of the bridge.
One after another, opponents evoked images of a Severn River plagued by severe pollution and clogged with barges, tour boats, yachts and sailboats.
Most of the estimated 30 people who testified predicted construction of the bridge would reduce the amount of wetlands, harm aquatic life and increase silt and pollution in the river's waters.
And replacing the 67-year-old Route 450 drawbridge with an 80-foot span inevitably would inevitably increase boat traffic considerably, worsening pollution, opponents charged.
Mistrust of the State Highway Administration pervadedalmost all the testimony.
"What history is telling me is that theSHA will say whatever it has to say to get its project through, but when it comes to the laws and the environment, they just don't care,"said Molly T. Smith, president of the West Annapolis Civic Association.
Smith and others pointed to construction of a U.S. 50-Rowe Boulevard exchange, a project that filled the headwaters of Weems Creek with sediment and resulted in a lawsuit. As part of an out-of-court settlement two years ago, the SHA agreed to clean up the creek.
Earle Freedman, the SHA's chief bridge engineer, told bridge opponents highway planners were "going to great detail on this job" to avoid harming the river. He said an SHA staffer would be assigned to oversee the construction site full-time to ensure that contractors comply withregulations.
But opponents argued that both DNR and highway officials should more closely examine the environmental effects of building a lower span, perhaps using part of the existing drawbridge's foundation. SHA officials have ruled out that possibility, calling the crumbling drawbridge beyond repair.
Environmentalists also harshly criticized the SHA plan to replace one-quarter acre of tidal wetlands with .41 acres of wetlands. The new wetlands would be under the bridge, deprived of oxygen, sunlight and winds needed for survival, said Colby Rucker, a member of the Severn River Association.
"We're not going to buy some half-baked idea either for the bridge or for the wetlands," he said.
Natural Resources staff members are reviewing theSHA plan to replace the wetlands and will make recommendations to Harold M. Cassell, the DNR wetlands administrator who is serving as hearing examiner. Cassell, in turn, will decide whether to recommend approval to the state Board of Public Works. The board, consisting of Gov. William Donald Schaefer, the state comptroller and the state treasurer, has final say.