The Old Severn River drawbridge moved one step closer to demise yesterday morning when the governor and the state's treasurer and comptroller signed a wetlands permit needed to replace it with an 80-foot-high span.
The decision by the three-member Board of Public Works means the only remaining avenue to stop the high-span bridge is court.
Thomas McCarthy Jr., an attorney for Scenic Severn River Bridge Inc., said the group may appeal the board's decision in county CircuitCourt.
Lawsuits filed by the city of Annapolis and the citizen's group are scheduled to be heard together Nov. 29 in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.
The U.S. Coast Guard approved the navigational permits in Washington yesterday, and the county Soil Conservation Permit is expected to be signed this morning.
"It's a matter of crossing T's and dotting I's," county district Conservation Engineer Jim Stein said yesterday.
These last three permits open the legal door for bids to be accepted this morning, said Earle Freedman, the chief bridge engineer for the State Highway Administration.
Gov. William Donald Schaefer and Treasurer Lucille Maurer downplayed their vote, saying it would be necessary even if the citizen's group wins its lawsuit and the state decides simply to repair the 67-year-old drawbridge.
Schaefer strongly supports the 80-foot-high bridge despite vocal opposition from Annapolis residents because it would bring $32 million in federal grants into the state.
Late last month, Schaefer announced a plan to try to jump start the state's economy by expediting the start of as many approved government public works projects as possible.
Aides to the governor said the Severn River Bridge project is one of the projects he had in mind when he announced the "New Deal"plan.
Laura Ricciardelli, of the citizen's group opposing the plan, said Schaefer was allowing his judgment to be clouded by federal dollars.
"That $32 million does not outweigh the permanent damage the bridge can do to the river and to the aesthetics of Annapolis," Ricciardelli said.
Severn River Association President Colby Rucker saw dark humor in the governor's fast track construction plans.
"I find some humor in it all. When we had it good, we didn't do anythingfor the environment and we moved all kinds of earth around this county. Now that we're in a recession, they take it as an excuse to dig more," said Rucker, whose group opposes the high span.
The SHA needed the wetlands permit because in building the bridge, it plans to fill in and replace one-tenth acre of wetland, dredge the river and erect a 500-foot stone wall along the shore.
Opponents have 30 days to appeal the Public Works decision.