Lawmakers find little to like in dredge plans Poplar Island restoration called too costly

Hart-Miller will be full soon

Environmentalists, watermen question use of Deep Trough

February 10, 1996|By Suzanne Wooton | Suzanne Wooton,SUN STAFF

State officials yesterday underscored the urgency of finding dredge disposal sites, but they quickly discovered that, among lawmakers, the perennially unpopular subject is still fraught with political, environmental and financial concerns.

A key element of the Glendening administration plan for dredge disposal -- the restoration of Poplar Island -- ran into immediate trouble when lawmakers were told the cost ultimately could reach $350 million.

But even a far less costly solution, to pump dredge material into the bottom of the Chesapeake Bay, also encountered sharp hostility from environmentalists, watermen and Eastern Shore lawmakers. That disposal option is opposed by Gov. Parris N. Glendening as well.

With Maryland's only major dredge disposal site, Hart-Miller Island, quickly filling up, state officials and shipping industry leaders insist that a comprehensive plan is critical to keeping Maryland's 126 miles of shipping channels open.

"We want to make sure we don't lose the competitive edge the state has spent so much money to get," House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., an Allegany County Democrat, told the joint hearing of the House Appropriations and Environmental Matters committees in Annapolis.

Tay Yoshitani, executive director of the Maryland Port Administration, outlined the state's disposal site plans, including raising the dikes at Hart-Miller, more open-water disposal at Pooles Island and a new dredge disposal site at Worton Point. Other sites will be revealed later, he said.

State officials have been focused most heavily on using dredge material to rebuild Poplar Island, once a popular resort near Talbot County that has become a cluster of tidal mud flats and marshy knolls. Thus far, the state has spent $13 million on the plan.

Mr. Glendening has budgeted $35 million this year to develop 550 acres, the first phase of the 1,100-acre project.

And lawmakers were told yesterday that it could ultimately cost $350 million to move dredge material to Poplar Island and build and fill the dike around it.

"Here you've been fast-tracking one of the most expensive projects," replied Ronald A. Guns, a Cecil County Democrat who is chairman of the Environmental Matters Committee.

"Poplar Island is a dream. It's a dream, and we don't have the money to waste," he said. "The reality is we've going to have to build a container facility, maybe two, like Hart-Miller in the upper bay, and we might as well get moving."

If the 10-year battle to build Hart-Miller Island in southeast Baltimore County is any indication, securing public and regulatory approval could be time-consuming.

But state officials are hoping that the positive results at Hart-Miller -- which has been converted to a popular recreational area -- will offset potential opposition to new containment facilities.

According to John R. Griffin, secretary of the Department of Natural Resources, federal authorities already have indicated that the permit process for a new site could be expedited and construction could begin in four to five years.

Labor and business leaders showed up yesterday to urge the lawmakers to repeal a 1991 law that prohibits pumping dredged material into Deep Trough and to conduct carefully monitored tests over five years.

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