Mud in Creek, Egg on Face ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY

March 16, 1993

Just when it seemed that Woodward & Lothrop's pseudo-environmental crusade against the Annapolis Mall expansion was at an end, the retailer got a break: One of the mall's sediment ponds caved in, swamping Weems Creek with dirt. The disaster couldn't have come at a better time for Woodies, which has yet to win a round in this battle and desperately needs some new ammunition.

The truth be told, Woodies probably never imagined that something like this would happen. While the company has claimed for months that Anne Arundel County officials designed the pond poorly, the problem with this sediment pond was not necessarily the one on which Woodies has been harping.

Woodies' contention has always been that the pond was too small for the amount of runoff it would have to contain. But mall officials say it was only half-full when it imploded. The Maryland Department of the Environment, which regulates sediment control, suspects that is true. If so, it means the pond failed because of some reason Woodies never suspected, perhaps a construction or maintenance problem.

From an environmental standpoint, of course, the reasons don't make a difference; sediment destroys waterways, suffocating aquatic plants and animals. Of all the sediment ponds in the county, this was one of the worst that could have collapsed, because Weems Creek has already been devastated by pollution from the state's expansion of Route 50-301. The county, which built and maintains the pond and is investigating the collapse, must find out who is responsible and who must pay for the clean-up.

Woodies has looked silly from the day it challenged the expansion, just half a mile away from its 29-year-old Parole Plaza store. No one, including judges and appeals boards, believed Woodies was seriously committed to environmental issues. The environment was just a tool to block the arrival of Nordstrom's, which displaced it from the mall. None of that has changed. Woodies' position appears just as transparently self-serving as ever.

Yet the store's motives and the fact that this accident comes at the right time for it do not in any way lessen the seriousness of the county's mistake. Woodies may be no hero in the matter. But in this latest episode, the mall and county certainly have egg on their faces.

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