County Developers First To Join To Create Wetlands

September 11, 1991|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Staff writer

A group of county developers has become the first in the state to band together to meet state environmental requirements by creating new homes for ducks, rabbits and squirrels.

With $150,000 contributed by the developers, the county's Bureau of Parks will create wetlands before the end of 1992 in Font Hill Park, a largely undeveloped area in western Ellicott City. A dam in the park broke a year ago, causingone of its two ponds to drain.

The developers' money, along with a $150,000 state matching grantand another $95,000 from county bond sales, will put the 21-acre park project years ahead of schedule. When completed, it will show otherdevelopers how wetlands can be created and provide a recreation areafeaturing paths, benches and probably picnic tables, said Jeffrey Bourne, county recreation and parks director.

"More money actually gets into the ground this way. You're not spending time running aroundlooking for a piece of land," Ellicott Woods developer Howard Resneck said.

Since 1986, state policy has required developers who disturb wetlands -- streams, bogs, marshes and soggy woodlands -- to create similar areas elsewhere on their property and thus replace the wildlife habitat and natural pollution filters that wetlands provide.

Because not all developers have suitable property, regulators permit them to contribute to a "bank" that supports a fund for creating wetlands elsewhere.

That concept is what brought together the developers of Ashton Woods, Ellicott Woods and Governor's Run in Ellicott City and Watermark condominiums in Columbia three years ago. The state Board of Public Works approved the matching grant for the Font Hill project last Wednesday.

The project will create a classroom for schoolchildren to study wildlife and a laboratory for developers and regulators to study different techniques of creating and improving wetlands.

"We're doing all different types of stream-stabilization techniques," using logs and rocks and other material to prevent stream bank erosion that contributes harmful silt to the waterways, said RobertC. Schumaker, president of Exploration Research Inc. of Ellicott City.

Schumaker's company, which creates wetlands, was hired by the developers to help meet state requirements and eventually worked out the deal with state and county authorities.

Resneck said the wetlands requirements are costly and time-consuming, especially when a developer has to comply alone. Consultants and engineers must be hired, bringing costs to more than $50,000 an acre.

"It's good to know that there'll be a fund to contribute to instead of going around trying to find a piece of land to develop (into a wetland)," he said. "It's like anything else: When you do it in volume, it costs less."

Resneck had to contribute $42,000 to make up for his construction of a road over a stream to provide access to 24 single-family homes off Route 103.

Improvements to the park were recommended to the county about six years ago by the state Department of Natural Resources, but the county has not had enough money, said Mark Raab, supervisor of landmanagement for county parks.

"With the fiscal problems that most governments are facing right now, I think this is the way to go in the future," Raab said.

The project, which also involves a variety of county and state agencies, will re-route storm drains into the new wetlands to filter out lawn chemicals, motor oil and other pollutantsthat would otherwise wash into the Little Patuxent River, the Patuxent River and the Chesapeake Bay.

"The whole thing is to try and keep things from washing down into the bay," Schumaker said, explainingthat the plants in the new wetland areas will filter out and even absorb the pollutants.

"We're really excited with this project," said Bourne, who expects the park to attract more wildlife once it is developed.

"Specifically, we would anticipate that waterfowl and predatory birds would be attracted," he added. "And, hopefully, kids, because Font Hill has always been an active park in terms of interpretive programs, especially working with the schools."

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