Activists, state clash over Scenic Rivers Act Landfill drainage prompts dispute

September 07, 1993|By John A. Morris | John A. Morris,Staff Writer

Water washing off the Millersville Landfill drains into the Severn River in apparent conflict with a state law that prohibits dumping into the "scenic" waterway.

But rather than enforce the 15-year-old prohibition, Maryland Secretary of Natural Resources Torrey C. Brown said that the clause protecting the state's scenic river system will be eliminated.

That has outraged activists along the Severn who see the Maryland Coastal Zones Management Program as providing the only teeth in the state's Scenic and Wild Rivers Act.

The Severn was designated by lawmakers in 1971 as one of Maryland's nine scenic and wild rivers.

The Severn River Commission, a watchdog group appointed by the county executive and Annapolis mayor, is asking Anne Arundel lawmakers to intervene either through political pressure new legislation.

"The [Coastal Zone Management] program says you can't dump in a scenic river and we want to make sure that everyone knows what that means," said commission chairman A. L. "Red" Waldron, who is set to meet with lawmakers on Sept. 16.

Mr. Waldron said the commission also is seeking legislation to strengthen the 25-year-old scenic rivers law, to require the state to make public the environmental impact of its construction projects sooner and to give environmental groups like the commission the legal right to oppose a project through appeals.

Commission members and other activists along the Severn have long grumbled that state agencies routinely ignore the Scenic and Wild Rivers Act when approving permits along the river or planning their own projects.

Environmentalists point to the mud that was allowed to flow into Weems Creek during the expansion of Route 50, the continuing construction of the Severn River Bridge and the approval of a 30-foot-tall boathouse on Clements Creek.

John Wilson of the Department of Natural Resources said the scenic river law was not enacted to give the Severn or the eight others more protection than undesignated rivers.

"The program was never meant to be regulatory," Mr. Wilson said. "That's something I've tried to explain to folks like the Severn River Commission."

The law does require the state to prepare a management plan, which it did for the Severn in 1983, Mr. Wilson said. "But that plan is a guide and it's up to the county government to implement as it sees fit."

Last winter, the commission thought it found a reference to the Scenic River Law in the Maryland Coastal Zone Management program that appeared to put new teeth into the law.

However, the celebration was short-lived. Dr. Brown conceded this spring that the Coastal Zone Management program literally forbids landfill operations in the headwaters of the Severn. But he said the state's scenic rivers were never meant to be covered by the prohibition; the federal rules on which the state law is based refer only to a National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. They do not protect rivers designated by the states.

Based on that interpretation of the federal rules, Dr. Brown said in an April 14 letter to Lina Vlavianos, a member of the Severn River Commission, that the state will erase the erroneous language from the state law as soon as possible.

"How interesting. Then I have to ask why were Maryland scenic rivers included in the [state program] in the first place?" Mrs. Vlavianos said.

Mr. Waldron called Dr. Brown's statement "weaselly worded." He said there is no national scenic rivers system, practically speaking. The job of identifying and protecting scenic rivers was turned over to the states, he said.

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