The Army Corps of Engineers has accused the county Parks and Recreation Department of damaging a small wetlands area while building a boardwalk along Havre de Grace's waterfront. The corps wants the wetlands returned to its natural state.
Bob Lee, a Parks and Recreation management assistant who worked on the boardwalk project, denies the charge.
At issue is a 100-square-foot area at the north end of a 600-foot section of boardwalk near Concorde Point.
The boardwalk now stretches along the Havre de Grace shoreline from the Havre de Grace Decoy Museum to Concord Point. Two more sections are planned.
The property is on the land side of the boardwalk. It was once wetlands but is now solid land, says the Army Corps of Engineers.
Sandra Mues, a hydro-geologist with the Army Corps of Engineers in Baltimore, contends the section of wetlands was filled in with material dredged from the Susquehanna River during construction of the boardwalk.
In a May 7 letter to Lee, Mues said the county violated the River and Harbor Act and the Clean Water Act by filling in the small section of land, and ordered the county to stop work on the project.
"This isn't, 'We didn't mean to do it.' We didn't do it," said Lee. "And when we start phases two and three of the boardwalk, we're going out there with video cameras to take pictures of what everything looks like before we start."
Lee said the area, like much of the Havre de Grace shoreline, was filled in about 30 years ago, and the county simply graded the 100-square-foot area, which the Army Corps of Engineers' permit allowed.
A permit from the corps is required for work done in wetlands or other environmentally sensitive shoreline areas.
He said that the stop work order arrived two months after that section of the promenade was finished, and that when Mues inspected the work in progress, she never mentioned possible environmental problems.
That may be so, said Mues, but the small section of land should be returned to its natural state.
"My biggest concern was the tidal area," she said, "and that seems to be rebounding nicely. The point is, that material [in the 100-square-foot section] doesn't need to be there. These fringe areas are fairly valuable."
Mues said that disturbing even a 100-square-foot area of wetlands could have greater repercussions for the area's ecosystem.
"The fact is, we don't know a lot about ecosystems, but wherethere's an action, there's a reaction," said Mues. "To me, it's all one complete system."
Mues described the violation as "small" and said she proposed what she thought was a reasonable solution: "that the Parks and Rec department pull out the fill and we'll drop the charges."
Lee says that accepting that proposal would make the county appear to be guilty of harming the environment.
Lee argued that the move could put the county in violation of its existing Army Corps of Engineers permit, which now allows the boardwalk a 2-foot encroachment over land touched by water at high tide.
Removing that fill would allow water to wash under the boardwalk, he said.
"I basically said to her, 'You drop all charges, then we'll talk
about removing the fill.'
"I agree with what she's saying about not disturbing sensitive areas, but the point is, we didn't do it," Lee said.