Bridge Suit Reaffirmed Despite Mayor's Stance

September 25, 1991|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,Staff writer

Neither the applause nor the standing ovation from a crowd of tall-bridge opponents could sway Annapolis Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins from hisview: The city cannot afford to get into the business of filing federal lawsuits.

And besides, he said, the bridge isn't even in the city.

Nevertheless, the City Council Monday night voted, 5-4, to reaffirm its decision to file suit against state and federal highway officials to block construction of an 80-foot-high span to replace the old Severn River Bridge. After the vote, a standing-room-only crowd of about 150 opponents of the state's bridge plan stood, cheered and applauded its approval.

Hopkins urged the bridge opponents to take their case to the county. After the meeting, Hopkins said "Nobody has gone to the county" to ask it to help pay for the suit, filed last Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

"The bridge is not in the city," said Hopkins, "the bridge is in the county."

Hopkins saidthe sign on the city side of the old drawbridge that says "Entering City of Annapolis" is technically inaccurate.

He said the city limits end short of the bridge, at King George Street and College Creek.Technically, the northeast side of the bridge sits on county land, the southwest end on federal property.

More important, he said, "People don't pay taxes to have their money used to sue. If we can afford to sue, we can afford to cut taxes."

The City Council voted earlier this month to put up as much as $20,000 to pursue the suit, whichargues that state and federal laws were violated in planning a $40 million span to replace the 67-year-old bridge. The suit claims planners did not give adequate consideration to the project's impact on theenvironment, traffic and the city's historic district.

A similar lawsuit has been filed by a private group, Citizens for the Scenic Severn River Bridge, which was well represented at the Monday night meeting.

The council's earlier vote to file the suit went 7-2, with dissenting votes from Hopkins and Samuel Gilmer, D-Ward 3.

On Monday night, Hopkins and Gilmer were joined by Carl O. Snowden, D-Ward 5,and M. Theresa DeGraff, R-Ward 7, in favoring the motion to reconsider the vote approving the suit. The motion was defeated, 5-4.

Snowden said he sought the reconsideration to give Annapolis residents a chance to show whether they support the city's lawsuit. "We got what we wanted," he said after the vote, "which was a clear indication from Annapolitans that they don't mind having their money spent in that manner."

Despite the fact that two private Annapolis lawyers have agreed to represent the city for free, Snowden said he does not believe $20,000 will be nearly enough to pursue the suit.

DeGraff told the group that she voted in favor of reconsideration only to give people a chance to speak on it. She said she's gotten about 60 phone calls opposing the state's plans, two in favor. She said she believes a recently-published newspaper poll showing a majority against the citylawsuit "was incorrect."

Gilmer said the big show of support for the suit in the council chamber Monday night "is in contrast to what I have received in opposition to our suit." The demonstration, he said, shows that "the people who are for the lawsuit are well-organized."

Alderman Ellen O. Moyer, D-Ward 8, said "I really resent the notion we're talking about a small group of hysterical, well-organized people. We ought to be talking about the issues" of whether the state complied with the law in planning the new bridge, which would stand about six times as high as the old bridge.

The state Department of Natural Resources, meanwhile, has recommended granting the wetlands permit the state needs to construct the bridge. The final decision will be made by the Board of Public Works.

The state needs the permitbecause in building the bridge, it plans to fill in and replace a tenth of an acre of wetland, dredge the river and erect a 500-foot stone wall along the shore.

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