Proposed construction regulations would further protect tidal wetlands

January 30, 1993|By John A. Morris | John A. Morris,Staff Writer Staff writer Tim Wheeler contributed to this article.

Waterfront property owners would be able to shelter their heads, but not their boats, under proposed state regulations released last week.

The rules, which would regulate all construction within public and private tidal wetlands, would bar new boathouse construction but allow gazebos to be built over the water, said Frank Dawson, chief of the state Department of Natural Resources' Tidal Wetlands Division.

Boathouses pose an environmental and aesthetic threat to the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, said Mr. Dawson.

Their size, sometimes three-stories and larger, can block sunlight needed by aquatic grasses and other submerged life, he said.

They also can be eyesores, he said, blocking off the bay's scenic vistas.

The state began regulating activity in the tidal wetlands 23 years ago, Mr. Dawson said.

But this marks the first time officials have attempted to codify policies that affect everything from dredging to shoreline erosion control and pier construction.

Most of the proposed rules -- with the notable exception of those dealing with boathouses and gazebos -- reflect on-going policies.

Dawson said the state has never denied a request for a boathouse and, at present, is loath to approve gazebos.

Regulators had intended to bar both, but some waterfront residents objected during the 10 public hearings last summer.

"The point was made that some people need shelter to access the water," he said.

"Someone with skin cancer can't use the water unless they have some sort of roof out there." Officials decided that need outweighed any aesthetic damage a gazebo might cause, he said.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) and National Wildlife Federation have objected that allowing gazebos weakens the law.

A 1989 state law restricts building over state-owned and private wetlands, including open water, unless they are for water-dependent uses.

The environmentalists are concerned that allowing gazebos will broaden the definition of water-dependent uses.

"I'm not concerned if someone has a small roof at the end of their pier to sit in the shade," said Curtis Bohlen, CBF biologist.

"But this opens the door" for groups to challenge rules and demand other uses, such as boathouses and restaurants.

Environmentalists have expressed concern about boathouses and other structures over water because they collect and concentrate pollutants from the atmosphere, which would then flush into the water whenever rain falls.

The pressure-treated lumber used in their construction is soaked with chemical compounds containing arsenic, which can be toxic to fish.

The structures also can block out sunlight needed by underwater bay grasses, as well as discourage the growth of some bottom-dwelling worms and mollusks, on which fish feed.

But Richard Klein, an environmental consultant, said he considered the proposed wetland regulations "a tremendous improvement" over existing rules, mainly because they tighten restrictions on developing marinas in shallow tidal creeks.

Mr. Klein represents a Cecil County citizens group that has been fighting expansion of a marina in a tributary of the Bohemia River.

DNR's Tidal Wetlands Division will be accepting public comment on the proposals through Feb. 26 at 974-3871.

The regulations could go into effect as early as March 29.

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