Laurel site for stadium seems OK

December 20, 1993|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Staff Writer

If Gov. William Donald Schaefer is banking on environmental issues to stall plans to build a football stadium in Laurel, he may be disappointed.

Preliminary reviews by federal, state and Anne Arundel County officials show the 55-acre tract Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke wants for his stadium is free of both major environmental hazards and wetlands.

"We do not show any wetlands," said Robert C. Cepp, the assistant supervisor of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Annapolis. "Whatever [Mr. Cooke] does, it doesn't look like there would be a tremendous amount of impact."

All officials interviewed, however, stressed that an exhaustive environmental review of the property has not been done.

That includes precise measurements and soil samples to

determine if wetlands do indeed exist and a comprehensive survey that could show if any endangered plants or animals are )) on the property.

Representatives for Mr. Cooke and Joseph De Francis, who owns Laurel Race Course and the proposed stadium parcel, have begun detailed engineering studies on the property. Government agencies won't do their reviews until the Redskins apply for permits.

That didn't stop Governor Schaefer, who opposes the project, from raising the wetlands issue this month when the 78,600-seat Laurel stadium was proposed.

Mr. Schaefer hinted at a Dec. 7 news conference that he would make it hard for Mr. Cooke to get state environmental permits.

"I want to know about an [environmental] impact statement," said Mr. Schaefer, who added that he will not help Mr. Cooke secure the site. "This may have a terrible effect on that area environmentally."

The governor's spokeswoman, Page W. Boinest, said Mr. Schaefer was commenting on everything from wetlands to infrastructure. "That included a half-dozen different things," she said. "The big-ticket item is the roads."

State Sen. Bernie Fowler, D-Calvert County, sent a letter to Mr. Schaefer Tuesday supporting a Baltimore site for the stadium and urging a comprehensive environmental review of the Laurel site.

The senator, who as a Calvert County commissioner successfully sued the state in 1976, charging that officials violated environmental rules in regards to the Patuxent River, said a stadium in Laurel could have a drastic effect on that waterway.

"We've invested hundreds of millions to bring the river back," Mr. Fowler said in an interview. "If we're going to gamble, we better err on the side of the river."

Mr. Cooke's project manager, Walter Lynch, said he has walked the proposed site at the corner of Brock Bridge and Whiskey Bottom roads "hundreds of times" and sees no environmental problems.

L That includes rare or endangered animals or plants, he said.

Mr. Lynch said only part of the property is in the flood plain and promised residents at several community meetings that the Redskins "don't plan to skirt the process. . . . Our engineers will work with state and county engineers to make sure we meet the required criteria."

But John Verrico, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, said no one will know for sure what is on the property until studies are done. He said some animals, such as a rare toad found in St. Mary's County this year, and the Tiger Salamander rarely emerge from underground.

"How would you know it's there?" Mr. Verrico asked. "You have no idea. You have to have the right people looking for the stuff."

But the wetlands issues seems a bit clearer.

Mr. De Francis' lawyer, Alan Rifkin, said their preliminary evaluation of the property shows "it is free of wetlands."

While part of the site is in the Patuxent River and Little Patuxent River flood plain, they said, wetlands do not seem to be prevalent.

Mr. Cepp based his information on satellite photographs and topographic maps from the U.S. Geological Survey. A final determination can only be made by testing soil samples, which has yet to be done.

Mr. Verrico cautioned that officials must see blueprints to determine what kind of an environmental impact the stadium will have.

"We can't talk about wetlands until we see a stadium site," Mr. Verrico said.

"We haven't seen his plans. His plans may not impact the wetlands at all."

Bob Dvorak, director of the Anne Arundel County Planning and Code Enforcement office, said he doesn't envision any wetland problems either.

"If there are any wetlands, they are of poor quality," he said. "The soil is pretty sandy."

Mr. Dvorak is putting together a package for Mr. Cooke detailing what needs to be done for approval.

The package includes getting zoning approval as a special exception from an administrative hearing officer and fulfilling the county's adequate facilities requirements, which means paying for water, sewer and road improvements.

A memo Mr. Dvorak prepared for Mr. Cooke's aides lists several potential problems, including possible adverse impacts on the Little Patuxent River if a bridge on Brock Bridge Road is widened.

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