It's not hard to understand why Dr. William J. Cirksena wants a boathouse. If you owned an 80-foot, vintage 1947 Trumpy yacht valued at $2 million to $3 million, you'd want one, too. But the state Department of Natural Resources, due to decide any day on the request, is in the business of protecting creeks and rivers, not boats.
Until now, the DNR has never denied a boathouse permit, which accounts for the proliferation of piers and buildings that threaten our waterfront. Considering that the DNR has routinely approved so many other boathouses, it seems a little unfair to deny Dr. Cirksena's. But the state must draw the line somewhere, and the size of the Cirksena project makes this a sensible place to start.
The doctor's boathouse simply would be too big -- 100 feet long, 28 feet high and 40 feet wide -- and placed too conspicuously at the mouth of Clements Creek on the Severn River. While it may not pose an environmental threat, the structure would ruin the way the river looks. Picture a huge, white block of galvanized steel and vinyl at the end of a pier. No wonder neighbors and environmental groups such as the Severn River Association fear for the beauty of the waterway.
When they fight projects like this, opponents always argue that the Severn is one of nine designated "scenic rivers" in Maryland, protected since 1971 under the Scenic and Wild Rivers Act. That sounds as if it should count for something. But what? Ask environmentalists or the DNR, and no one knows what the classification means in practical terms. It hasn't protected the Severn, or we wouldn't see so many structures cluttering the river.
It takes more than an act of state or a label to protect a natural resource. Preserving a river requires careful regulation. Even the state recognizes it has been too lax; it is considering new tidal wetlands regulations that would ban construction of new boathouses and other structures at the end of piers.
The DNR should adopt them. At the very least it should develop guidelines for what kind of boathouses it will allow, and under what circumstances. Meanwhile, it should deny Mr. Cirksena's request, which is exempt from new regulations. His boat is splendid, no doubt about it. But the DNR can't sacrifice the Severn in order to save it.