Severn Span Plan Foes Band Together Formally

August 30, 1991|By Gary Gately | Gary Gately,Staff writer

A citizens group fighting the planned 80-foot-high Severn River bridge incorporated yesterday in preparation for a lawsuit aimed at stopping construction of the span.

The move came a day after Gov. William Donald Schaefer announced that the state would proceed with plans to replace the crumbling Route 450 drawbridge.

The anti-bridge group, which has gathered more than 6,000 signatures on a petition against the high crossing, incorporated as Citizensfor the Scenic Severn River Bridge Inc. The move qualifies the groupas a legal entity, a necessary prerequisite to filing a lawsuit.

As about 30 members of the protest group chanted, "No high bridge!" across from the Governor's Mansion yesterday, leaders predicted a legal battle would stop the $40 million span.

"This is the good fight,the right fight, and we're going to move ahead to stop that bridge,"said Thomas McCarthy Jr., an Annapolis attorney and leader in the bridge battle.

McCarthy said he and other local attorneys will represent the group in a lawsuit to be filed within a month. He added theyhad yet to determine specific grounds for the suit or legal strategies.

He did say the group would likely argue that highway planners failed to conduct adequate public hearings or necessary reviews of the bridge's impact on the environment and the city's historic district.

State highway officials say the project complies with all necessary state and federal requirements.

McCarthy said the group has received about $3,000 in contributions to a legal fund and expects fund-raisers to boost that amount considerably.

The first is scheduledfor Sept. 15 at the William Paca House in Annapolis, where bridge opponents will pay $25 each for hors d'oeuvres and cocktails. The featured guest, Annapolis artist Neil Harpe, will unveil a handful of paintings of the old drawbridge.

Annapolis' City Council also has authorized the city attorney to sue to stop the bridge, and a private lawfirm has agreed to represent the city without charge. City Attorney Jonathan A. Hodgson, however, refused to discuss possible grounds fora lawsuit.

Opponents of the high bridge, arguing that it would ruin the city's historic skyline, harm the environment and worsen congestion, asked Schaefer to consider lower alternatives.

But the governor said the state would lose $32 million in federal funds unless itproceeds now.

If the state were to scrap its plans and begin planning a lower bridge now, Maryland could wait a decade or more for newfederal money, he said.

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