Aberdeen Proving Ground has won tentative state approval to build a 60-acre pond for test explosions along the Bush River after abandoning plans to dispose of soil from the site in a rockfish spawning ground.
The $22 million "Superpond" project has prompted fears over howunderwater explosions to test the endurance of submarine models would affect the environment and wildlife near the Chesapeake Bay. The Army would run the tests for the Navy.
"We don't see any fatal flaws in the project at this point," Paul O. Massicot, tidewater administrator for the state Department of Natural Resources, said Thursday.
DNR will review the Army's applications for permits that must be approved by the Army Corps of Engineers. The corps enforces federal environmental protection standards in wetland areas such as those bordering the proving ground.
The Army had proposed dumping in the waters off Abbey Point 1.9 million cubic yards of earth from the pond excavation. That would have created about100 acres of wetlands to stabilize a heavily eroded area at the southern edge of the base, the Army argued.
"We thought it was a good idea," Tim McNamara, an APG environmental specialist, said Thursday.
APG officials had promoted the new wetlands as a way to show the explosion pond project would improve the environment. But DNR officials disagreed after public hearings last summer.
"On the one hand, it's beneficial to marsh land, but it takes out of circulation spawning areas for the striped bass rockfish," Massicot said.
McNamara said the Army's permit applications will reflect DNR's concerns and include very limited use of excavation soil for erosion control at APG. Most of the earth will be trucked away to drain in an unspecified dry, upland area of the base. The Army's environmental assessment reported that the excavated soil will take about seven years to drain and will cover about 2.25 acres.
The change in plans was not welcome news to Pam Serino, an Edgewood resident and director of the Conservation Federation of Maryland, a non-profit environmental group.
"The one big benefit (of the pond) was supposed to be this big wetlands. Now that's been eliminated," she said Thursday.
But Massicot said filling in waters off Abbey Point would cause even greater ecological mischief than erosion.
McNamara, of APG, said the Army fully supports the project but still requires formal approval from Maj. Gen. Ronald V. Hite, APG base commander.
Army officials mailed responses Dec. 14 to more than a dozen federal, state and county agencies and individuals who raised concerns about the explosion pond last summer.
The army was criticized for not studying seriously how bald eagles who nest along the Bush River would react to underwater tests involving explosive charges as large as 3,500 pounds.
"We didn't feel that they had adequately reviewed the impact on the eagles," Andy Moser,an endangered species specialist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service field office in Annapolis, said Thursday.
Army officials argue that the Navy will conduct only about 40 explosions each year, involving less human activity than APG's current above-ground and water-surface munitions testing.
Neither the Fish and Wildlife Service nor DNR wildlife specialists has assessed a detailed Army defense of its conclusion that the eagles have not been driven away by decades of testing at the site.
"They have a management plan for bald eagles,and we want to see how it would work with (the pond)," Moser said.