WHETHER IT BE ON land or on sea, finding waste-disposal sites is never easy. That's the case for the Port of Baltimore, which needs major dredging work along its 126 miles of shipping channels -- but lacks sites to dump the spoil.
For the past two years, routine maintenance dredging has been deferred because of this problem. Unless new sites are picked, Baltimore may start losing maritime business as steamship lines desert the port because its channels are too shallow and too narrow.
Port business is especially competitive right now. Companies are sharing vessels to maximize their efficiency and cutting down on the number of port calls. Anything to slice expenses in this cutthroat industry.
This does not bode well for Baltimore if its silting problems aren't solved and if it doesn't improve its northern route via the C&D Canal.
State and port leaders have come up with a plan to address the port's dredging needs for the next 20 years. It is a carefully researched and widely discussed proposal that seeks to dump spoil at five sites. Some are controversial, but the overall approach makes sense.
The plan calls for continued placement of material at Pooles Island in the northern bay; using the material to rebuild Poplar Island in the southern bay; stabilizing the Kent County shoreline at Worton Point; increasing the spoil capacity at Hart-Miller Island in eastern Baltimore County and placing material in the bay's deepest portion, known as the Deep Trough.
These last two proposals are controversial. Recreational boaters and nearby residents object to reopening the Hart-Miller site. Yet only half the island would be affected and it is a cost-effective option. As for the Deep Trough project, environmentalists express concern, though this has been carefully analyzed by bay scientists. The state wants to proceed slowly, with more studies on the impact of dumping material in this "dead" portion of the Chesapeake.
Expanded dredging is imperative. State officials have come up with a balanced plan that tries to address environmental and community worries. With 87,000 jobs and a total revenue impact of $2.4 billion, the port is vital to Maryland's economy. Legislators should support the dredging plan -- or offer another approach that keeps Baltimore competitive.