Plan aims to shore up river banks

April 04, 1994|By Katherine Richards | Katherine Richards,Sun Staff Writer

Once or twice a year, silt and debris clog the Little Patuxent River east of Laurel, and officials at Fort Meade send bulldozers into the stream to dredge the channel to keep the silt from being sucked into intake pipes at the fort's drinking water plant.

Now, officials at the post say they have a plan to shore up the river banks, reduce the erosion and improve the river's health, as well as protect their water plant, which sits at a dam north of Md. Route 198.

Fort Meade's department of public works has proposed shoring up about 1,000 feet of the river bank with rock, called rip rap, and planting aquatic vegetation over the rip rap. A final dredging would clear the area and restore a clogged side channel.

Bill Harmeyer, a staff environmentalist with the department, says the bank stabilization project would improve the environment as well as help the water treatment plant.

"What we're doing is putting the river back into a more stable condition," he says.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is considering the project. The corps will accept public comment on the proposal until April 18.

Fort Meade officials say the cause of the trouble is excessive erosion of the banks of the Little Patuxent River.

The watershed is unstable, he says. Because much of the land around the stream has been paved, water cannot sink into the ground, and instead, it runs off quickly into the stream.

"Every time it rains, we get a tremendous flush of water," Mr. Harmeyer says. That has accelerated the natural erosion of the river's banks, undercutting trees and toppling them into the water.

"It does happen naturally, but not at this rate," he says. "Erosion is natural, but tremendous huge deposits [of silt] aren't."

Fort Meade spokesman Don McClow says the project's cost will not be known until state and federal agencies make their final recommendations about how the work should proceed.

Nooks and crannies in the rip rap would provide homes for aquatic insects. The insects would become food for fish such as the smallmouth bass, he says.

He says no wetlands would be destroyed during the work, and no trees would be removed except those that already have fallen into the water. No dredging would be done during the spring fish migration.

"This is going to be the scalpel approach," Mr. Harmeyer says.

John Verrico, spokesman for the state Department of Natural Resources, says his agency has not yet approved the project, but he confirms that the work is not expected to destroy any wetlands or disturb the stream bed.

"We don't see any adverse impacts of this project at all," he says.

"They're trying to prevent having to dredge every six months out there," Mr. Verrico says. Because dredging disturbs the stream bed, the stabilization project should help the environment.

However, he warns against expecting a panacea. The area is experiencing shore erosion, he says, and even if the stabilization project goes forward, silt from erosion upstream will continue to collect at the dam.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.