A bridge too high, a price too great, foes say

October 24, 1991|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,Annapolis Bureau of The Sun

ANNAPOLIS -- This bridge, they said, will lead to ruin.

Advocates of human scale in architecture, guardians of historic Annapolis and protectors of hidden creeks called Louise and Weems and Back asked state government yesterday to stop an 80-foot-tall bridge across the Severn River adjacent to the U.S. Naval Academy.

The project is going forward despite the harm it would do, they said, because $32 million in federal money is available. The costs cannot be counted in money alone, the protesters said.

"We want a government that has the courage to say when a mistake has been made," Anne Arundel County Councilwoman Maureen Lamb told the Board of Public Works. She said government had left people out of the planning process and ignored its own environmental regulations.

Ms. Lamb was the first of a dozen witnesses that included three children from Bates Middle School, environmentalists, lawyers and others.

The existing bridge, constructed in 1924, can be repaired at less expense -- and should be, they declared. If a new bridge is built, it should be closer in scale to the current span.

A new bridge is needed because the old one is crumbling, the state says, and to allow larger pleasure boats up the river.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer, a member of the board, said the $32 million in federal money is not available for anything but new construction -- and the state does not have the $16 million to $20 million that would be needed to repair the bridge.

But the protesters urged the governor to recognize that damage to wetlands and sedimentation caused by construction of the bridge's long approach areas would hurt the Severn and the nearby Chesapeake Bay.

"We are killing the bay," said Keith Oliver, an Annapolis architect, "as surely and purposefully as if we put our collective hands around its throat."

Mr. Schaefer listened to at least an hour of testimony, during which witnesses challenged his oft-spoken commitment to restoring health to the bay.

The governor challenged back, suggesting that the witnesses had not been so passionate when his landmark program of growth management and bay protection, referred to as the 2020 plan, was being defeated last year in the General Assembly.

Mr. Oliver said the governor was mistaken. He had indeed testified for the bill at every stage of the legislative process.

Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein, also a board member, suggested that progress -- "modern conveniences," he said -- demands this sort of construction.

But Mr. Oliver said, "We can improve our lives without harming our environment."

Charles Wheeler, the state's wetlands administrator, told the board he had "absolutely" no doubt that construction's impact had been studied and could be managed.

Again the protesters disagreed.

"Mitigation of the damage," said Laura T. Ricciardelli, a local lawyer, "is a fantasy."

Massive public works projects, said Elizabeth McWethy, inevitably are "wounding." Efforts to keep damaging silt from sifting down onto the riverbed are well-meaning but ineffective, she said.

"We cannot stop the bridge," the governor said. "All we can judge is the wetlands permit."

But later he suggested people might be happier with no bridge at all. His remark was vigorously applauded -- though none of the protesters thought he was seriously suggesting the project would be scrapped.

"Through that comment, the governor ridiculed our concerns," Ms. Ricciardelli said.

After the testimony was completed, the governor moved to delay voting on the wetlands permit for a week while all the statements and studies and reports are reviewed again.

"I don't disagree with their reasoning," Mr. Schaefer said. But he pointed out again, "If you reject the $32 million, it's gone."

The "No High Bridge" advocates, meanwhile, are already proceeding to block the project in court, Ms. Ricciardelli said.

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