Dredging may begin at Weems Cleanup depends on permits, money

August 11, 1993|By John A. Morris | John A. Morris,Staff Writer

Contractors could begin digging eroded soil out of Weems Creek as early as this winter, a county official said yesterday, while cautioning that money and the need for permits could cause delays.

Tom Andrews, the county's new chief environmental officer, outlined a plan for the Weems Creek Conservancy and waterfront residents to win the necessary federal and state permits, but he noted that quick approval will be difficult.

"If we could get it done on the cheap, it could happen this winter from a financial point of view," Mr. Andrews told residents and officials of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources yesterday morning. The cost is estimated to be between $30,000 and $120,000.

Mr. Andrews said eroding stream banks and decades of suburban development had been slowly choking the creek even before it received a "shock" from highway construction in the late 1980s.

The source of the money to pay for the dredging or to finance Mr. Andrews' plan to obtain the necessary permits was unclear yesterday afternoon, however.

Lisa Ritter, a spokeswoman for his office, said no county taxpayer money will be spent, but added that she did not know where the money would come from. Mr. Andrews could not be reached for further comment.

Before granting dredging permits, state and federal environmental officials will require the county, Annapolis and residents to stop the flow of sediment from parking lots, lawns and eroding stream banks. Such sediment could refill the dredged channels and require still more dredging, Mr. Andrews said.

The county recently hired Maryland Save Our Streams (SOS), a Glen Burnie-based, nonprofit group, to recruit and train volunteers to identify eroded stream banks and other problem areas in the watershed, Mr. Andrews said. Jonathan Pearson, an SOS project coordinator, said the stream survey would require 10 to 15 volunteers and could begin within eight to 10 weeks.

The county also has hired Columbia-based Brightwater Consulting Inc. to repair a 2,000-foot stream bed between the Annapolis Mall and Admiral Drive damaged by years of development and the collapse last winter of a walled storm water control pond near the mall.

Robert Sheesley, co-owner of Brightwater, said he hopes to re-create a naturally occurring stream bed -- with meandering bends and banks reinforced with trees and shrubs -- large enough to carry runoff from the urbanized watershed without further erosion.

"We're not going to just take the sediment out," Mr. Sheesley said. "We're going to reconstruct the stream the way it should be to handle these events."

The storm water pond should be repaired by Dec. 1, county officials said.

Weems Creek residents have pressed county and state officials to dredge the headwaters since the State Highway Administration expanded the Route 50-Rowe Boulevard interchange in the late 1980s. The residents attribute much of the creek's siltation to mud flows from the construction site.

Regulators gave Mr. Andrews and residents hope that the dredging could move forward when they did not veto preliminary inquiries about removing 3,000 cubic feet, a relatively small amount, Mr. Andrews said.

If the dredging is approved, state officials said they probably would require that it be done between Oct. 15 and Feb. 15, to limit damage to submerged aquatic grasses found there this summer. Submerged grasses provide valuable habitat and food for aquatic life and remove from the water excess nutrients that can cause harmful algae blooms.

Money may be available from the state's Waterway Improvement Program, which receives taxes collected from boat sales, to finance the dredging project, DNR officials said, provided the county can wait until late 1994.

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