DNR's Big Boathouse Blunder ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY

April 20, 1993

The state Department of Natural Resources' approval of a gargantuan boathouse on the Severn River makes us wonder why it ever bothered to designate the waterway as "scenic." If the Scenic and Wild Rivers Act doesn't protect against development this intrusive, what's the point in having it?

Even after Dr. William J. Cirksena redesigned his boathouse to be more attractive, its sheer size -- 100 feet long, 42 feet wide and 34 feet high -- makes it totally unsuitable for a protected river. It's not as though the building will be tucked away in some hidden cove; it is to be built at a conspicuous spot at the mouth of Clements Creek.

No one can argue with Dr. Cirksena's reasons for wanting the boathouse. He is fortunate enough to own a splendid 80-foot, vintage 1947 Trumpy yacht, worth $2 to $3 million. Because the boat is all wood, it must be protected from the weather.

But the yacht is not the DNR's concern. The agency knows all too well how the proliferation of boathouses and piers is ruining the waterfront, because it has contributed to it. The DNR has never denied a boathouse permit -- a stance that has already caused so much damage that the state is banning boathouses starting next month. Knowing this, how could DNR officials justify approval of such a huge project? Indeed, how could it justify approval of seven other boathouses since Jan. 1?

The DNR says it wouldn't be fair to turn down these requests before the ban takes effect. But there is no law guaranteeing the right to piers and boathouses; applicants always have been able to build them only because the DNR has been lax. Essentially, what DNR officials are saying is that they feel compelled to continue being indulgent until the law requires otherwise. Instead, the DNR should have seen the Cirksena project as a logical place to start turning over a new leaf.

More than 20 years after Maryland passed the Scenic and Wild Rivers Act, the law has done little to protect the nine waterways covered by the law. Practically, its only visible consequence are the fancy little signs, such as the ones that proclaim "Severn Scenic River" on the Severn River bridge. If that's the extent of the gesture, the state ought down take the signs and abandon the pretense that it is according these rivers sensitive treatment.

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