Severn cove visit worries activists

April 01, 1993|By John A. Morris | John A. Morris,Staff Writer

Environmentalists fear Maryland Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein's planned visit to a narrow-mouthed cove off the Severn River this morning could emasculate the state's wetland protection program.

Mr. Goldstein, who sits on the state Board of Public Works, proposed the visit March 10 after a waterfront property owner asked for permission to dig a boating channel between the river and the cove, known as Shady Lake.

The board must approve all dredging projects within state waters. Mr. Goldstein's visit suggests the board may be willing to approve the dredging, though it has been opposed by almost every state agency involved, environmentalists say.

"All the scientific evidence suggests that dredging that pond will make things worse, not better," said Curtis Bohlen, a biologist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. "The fact that it is still being considered at this late a time is disturbing."

The state Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the National Marine Fisheries Service have firmly stated their opposition to the dredging project. Neighbors, represented by the Severn River Association, the Wardour Improvement Association and the Weems Creek Conservancy, also have objected.

Digging a channel into the cove, which lies at the base of the old Severn River Bridge between the U.S. Naval Academy and Wardour, would destroy aquatic vegetation and fish habitat, state officials have said.

Limited access to the 4-acre cove -- its mouth is only 8 feet wide and a foot deep -- has made it a valuable nursery area for finfish, said Frank Dawson, chief of the state's Tidal Wetlands Division. The shallow entrance allows young fish to enter but keeps predators at bay, he said.

The dredging also would run counter to the state's boating management and scenic river plans, which designate Shady Lake as an area to be protected, Mr. Dawson said in a Feb. 3 memorandum to the Board of Public Works.

"All these agencies have ruled against this, yet Louis Goldstein feels he can go on site and decide for himself," said John Flood, an activist with the Anne Arundel County Rivers Coalition. "The entire review process is under attack here."

Mr. Goldstein, who sits on the board with Gov. William Donald Schaefer and state Treasurer Lucille Maurer, could not be reached for comment yesterday afternoon.

"I don't think [Mr. Goldstein] is intimidating or questioning the process," said Ms. Maurer, adding that she plans to join him on this morning's tour. "I think people are blowing out of proportion what it means when we go visit a site."

Ms. Maurer said board members visit sites where controversies have arisen several times a year. As a result of those visits, she said, the board has at times been more lenient or more stringent than the state agencies.

Mr. Goldstein "doesn't rely on [agency reports] for an answer," Ms. Maurer said. "He's going to use his hip boots and see for himself."

Jan Chandonnet, whose request to dredge the channel triggered the controversy, could not be reached for comment. State records show he has said he wants to use the channel to bring his sailboat into the cove and to improve the water quality.

State officials have found no problem with water quality. Some trash, including a basketball and bits of plastic, are floating in the water. The bottom is covered with seaweed, which environmentalists say is beneficial, and algae, which usually is flushed out by heavy rains.

Mr. Bohlen of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation said the boating channel and the water quality should be dealt with separately. The nonprofit foundation, he said, will work with Wardour residents to organize citizen projects to improve the water quality.

Ordinarily, Mr. Bohlen said, the foundation does not become involved in what it considers local issues, but "this was bad enough an idea that we decided we should come in. It shouldn't be a hard decision, and it's a little troubling that it is."

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