County proposes dredging small section of Weems Creek

June 15, 1994|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,Sun Staff Writer

Anne Arundel County government wants to dredge a small section of Weems Creek where so much silt has run into the water that piers are sometimes on dry land.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will decide on the project after the public comment period ends July 5. It is being asked to balance Annapolis residents' desire to reopen a boating channel against environmental concerns over underwater plants in the area. Also at issue is whether runoff problems have been solved.

Geoffrey Thomas, one of four affected Admiral Heights property owners, said that on some days last year his 20-foot power boat could not be budged from the bottom. He also said other homes, further up Weems Creek, often have mud flats. Maps indicate that water depth near the Thomases' pier neared 9 feet in 1948.

Mr. Thomas and his wife, Patricia, have been paying about $3,500 in waterfront real estate taxes. Nearby homes without waterfront access pay substantially less.

"It doesn't seem right that people have spent all this money and they have a pier and they have it on no water," he said.

Mr. Thomas said the community does not want to see more underwater vegetation disturbed than necessary. Department of Natural Resources maps show the proposed dredge area has small amounts of horned pondweed, though it is growing more densely nearby.

The county, which has been criticized for the perceived inadequacy of its sediment control programs, put additional inspectors in the area this spring. Those efforts might have come too late, Mr. Thomas said.

The county's proposal, a revised version of one the Weems Creek Conservancy suggested in 1992, calls for a 4-foot-deep channel about 15 feet wide and 650 feet long on the Annapolis side of the creek's center. John Scarborough, chief of system design with the county Bureau of Engineering, said the county would like to dredge between Oct. 1 and Feb. 28, 1995. The work cannot be done during fish spawning in spring or the summer boating season.

The project is budgeted at $183,000. The county will ask Annapolis for money, said Tom Andrews, chief environmental officer. The city's budget does not include funds for the project, said Alderman Dean Johnson, whose district includes Admiral Heights. Much of the silt has been blamed on construction projects such as the State Highway Administration (SHA) building of Route 50, the Anne Arundel Medical Center expansion and the blowout last year of the storm water pond behind the Annapolis Mall.

In 1992, the Weems Creek Conservancy tried unsuccessfully to get SHA to pay for the dredging. It also suggested the unpopular idea of putting the dredge spoil in the creek.

In informal talks, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has said it would be averse to approving dredging downstream if the problems leading to silt build-up were not taken care of upstream. Mr. Andrews said the county has initiated better inspections of construction projects, built a new storm water pond behind the mall, and "restored" the Cowhide Branch tributary to Weems Creek.

John Flood, president of the Federation of South River Associations and a surveyor with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, does not think runoff has been controlled in the 1,800-acre watershed.

"What used to be uncontrolled runoff from soils is now uncontrolled runoff from [paved] surfaces," he said.

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